By JOSH FRIEDMAN
A Santa Maria man has received a sentence of 15 years to life in prison for causing a 2018 DUI crash in Nipomo that killed an 82-year-old woman.
Edgar Saul Rojas Morales, 25, narrowly avoided a murder conviction in the case after a jury split 11-1 in favor of guilt.
On Dec. 1, 2018, at about 10:30 p.m., Morales was driving northbound in the southbound lane of Thompson Avenue when he crashed head-on into a BMW driven by Maricela Marquez, 55, of Santa Maria. The crash killed Maria Rosas 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, nearly twice the legal limit, at the time of the crash, according to the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office. In a statement to officers, Morales said he felt clumsy and should not have been driving that evening.
The Santa Maria man was previously convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol in 2014 and 2017, which made him eligible to face a murder charge as a result of the deadly crash. 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.
On Dec. 16, 2020, at the conclusion of a trial, a San Luis Obispo jury convicted Morales of gross vehicle manslaughter while intoxicated, driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury and driving on a suspended license. Despite leaning 11-1 in favor of guilt, the jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict on Morales’s second-degree murder charge.
Following Morales’s sentencing, SLO County District Attorney Dan Dow said in a statement the case should serve as a warning.
“The tragic death of Ms. Medina was completely avoidable,” Dow said. “The conviction and sentence should serve as a warning that driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is deadly dangerous, will not be tolerated in San Luis Obispo County and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”