UPDATE [8/2/22 at 5:54 p.m.] Nearly three years after the high-speed head-on collision that took the lives of 34-year-old Rebecca Vanessa Goss Bley and her two children — 2-year-old Lucienne Bley Gleason and 4-month-old Desmond Bley Gleason — on a bridge on Highway 154, the man responsible for the crash, 31-year-old John Dungan, was convicted by a Santa Barbara jury Tuesday of three counts of second-degree murder.
The seven-week trial began in June, with the prosecution team of Deputy District Attorneys Megan Chanda and Stephen Wagner pushing for a conviction on three counts of felony first-degree murder, attempting to prove a suicidal and homicidal Dungan intentionally plowed his Chevy Camaro full-speed into Bley’s Chevy Volt on Cold Springs Canyon Bridge in October 2019.
Dungan’s defense team, led by attorney Jeremy Lessem, built a case that Dungan, though responsible for the deaths of the three victims, did not plan or premeditate the killings.
The prosecution’s case took the bulk of the trial, with Chanda and Wagner calling witnesses at the scene that day, investigators involved in the incident, and those who knew Dungan personally. The often emotional testimony drew tears from several witnesses describing the gruesome scene, in which Bley’s body was launched through her windshield and the children were trapped inside the burning vehicle. Other witnesses recalled failed attempts to rescue the children. Investigators would testify that all three died on impact, with Dungan’s gas pedal fully open at 119 mph at the time of the collision.
As the trial continued, the prosecution called personal friends and family of Dungan, painting a picture of a man who struggled with mental-health issues and suicidal thoughts. Earlier in 2019, authorities conducted a welfare check earlier at Dungan’s residence following self-threatening messages that were sent to friends and family. “I am too sensitive for this reality,” read one note submitted as evidence.
Chanda would also show that Dungan had a penchant for weapons and violent tendencies. Police discovered 16 firearms, 20,000 rounds of ammunition, and body armor at his residence, with Dungan eventually being placed on a psychiatric hold. A month later, he would be charged with felony stalking of an ex-girlfriend, which resulted in him being involuntarily admitted to a psychiatric facility before attending a rehabilitation program and being placed on probation. Investigators later showed that Dungan removed his court-ordered GPS tracker minutes before the crash.
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The defense called only two witnesses, with Dungan choosing not to testify at all. Instead, Lessem called on a psychiatrist who examined Dungan at the hospital a little more than a week after the collision in 2019. Though the doctor did not specifically remember the encounter, he reviewed his reports and testified that he was unable to determine whether Dungan was suicidal, but that there were “a lot of red flags” — one being the note the defendant left the day of the crash, which the doctor referred to as a “suicide letter,” and another being a call from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office advising the hospital about Dungan’s history of having crisis intervention called on him multiple times.
After both sides finished their arguments on Thursday, July 28, the jury deliberated through Friday and Monday. On Tuesday, they reached a verdict convicting Dungan on the lesser charges of second-degree murder, finding that he was responsible for the deaths but lacked “aforethought” and intent. Now convicted of three counts of second-degree murder, Dungan faces 45 years to life. He is scheduled to be sentenced on September 8.
ORIGINAL STORY [8/2/22 at 12:47 p.m.] After two days of deliberation, jurors have found John Dungan, a Santa Barbara man charged with killing a Solvang woman and her two children in a high-speed collision in October 2019, guilty of second-degree murder on all three counts.
Prosecutors were requesting the jury to find Dungan guilty in the first degree, but after hearing more than six weeks of evidence and witness statements from both councils, the members of the jury were unable to find the defendant guilty of murder with premeditation and unanimously agreed on their decision.
Data from Dungan’s Camaro showed that he was traveling at 119 mph moments before impacting the victims, 34-year-old Rebecca Vanessa Goss Bley and her two children, Lucienne and Desmond Bley Gleason, 2 years old and 4 months old, respectively.
The court will return to Judge Thomas Adams’s courtroom for sentencing on Wednesday, September 8.