By JOSH FRIEDMAN
A Santa Maria man who drove the wrong way while intoxicated, causing a crash in Nipomo that killed an 82-year-old woman, managed to evade a second-degree murder conviction after a single juror held out from finding him guilty on Monday.
The San Luis Obispo jury split 11-1 in favor of convicting Edgar Saul Rojas Morales, 25, of second-degree murder. The jury did, however, convict Morales of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury and driving on a suspended license.
Morales faces a possible sentence of 15 years to life in prison, because of prior convictions.
At about 10:30 p.m. on Dec. 1, 2018, Morales was driving northbound in the southbound lane of Thompson Road when he crashed head-on into a BMW driven by Maricela Marquez, 55. The crash killed Maria Medina, who was a passenger in Marquez’s car. Morales suffered major injuries in the crash, while Marquez emerged with minor injuries.
Morales had a blood alcohol level of .157 percent, nearly twice the legal limit. When questioned by officers, Morales indicated he felt clumsy and should not have been driving that evening, according to the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s office.
Prosecutors were allowed to charge Morales with second-degree murder because he was previously convicted of DUI. A state law requires DUI offenders to agree that if they drive under the influence again and a person dies as a result of it, they may face a second-degree murder charge.
When accounting for prior DUI convictions in 2014 and 2017, as well as a prior driving on a suspended license conviction, Morales now faces a possible sentence of 15 years to life in prison. He would have faced 15 years to life in prison solely for second-degree murder had the jury found him guilty on that count.
“The tragic and completely avoidable death of Ms. Medina is a sobering reminder that driving under the influence of alcohol is deadly, dangerous and will not be tolerated in San Luis Obispo County,” District Attorney Dan Dow said in a statement. “We are thankful for the difficult work carried out by this jury, particularly in light of the Covid-19 safety precautions and we respect the fact that they were unable to reach a verdict on the charge of murder.”
Morales is scheduled for sentencing Dec. 29.