Man convicted of second-degree murder in alcohol-fuelled accident that killed a cyclist in Huntington Beach – Orange County Register

WESTMINSTER – A 28-year-old Garden Grove man was convicted on Wednesday in an alcohol-fueled collision that killed a cyclist in Huntington Beach.

Victor Manuel Romero, who has a criminal record for drunk driving, has been convicted of second-degree murder and hit and run with permanent and serious injuries. He was found guilty of the murder of 33-year-old transient Raymond MacDonald.

Romero is due to be sentenced on February 10.

The jury deliberated on the case for about five hours.

“This is a case about the defendant’s decisions on March 30, 2019,” senior assistant district attorney Janine Madera said in her opening statement of the trial. “The evidence will show that the universe suggested he make different choices, but he didn’t.”

Romero’s evening “started at the Hurricane Bar and Grill” in Huntington Beach, Madera said, adding the defendant drove to the bar in his BMW and later got into a fistfight in the parking lot. The police were stopped.

“By the time they got there the fight was over, but what they could see was objective signs of poisoning and they asked him how you were going to get home,” Madera said.

He told one officer he would call for an Uber, and he told another minutes later that his sister would pick him up, Madera said.

But instead he boarded a parking garage elevator with a witness, Richard Cole, who saw Romero’s torn shirt and intoxicated state, prosecutors said. Cole asked Romero if he wanted to drive, “and he said yes, and he (Cole) tried to tell him that it wasn’t a good idea,” Madera said.

Romero, who was “screaming” from the parking lot, crashed into the Cadillac owned by bar manager Geronimo Gutierrez, Madera said.

A short time later, he crashed into MacDonald on Beach Boulevard and Adams Avenue, Madera said. According to prosecutors, an Uber driver saw the defendant accelerate and run a red light before ramming the cyclist.

Romero kept walking until he crashed into a tree on Adams Avenue and Lake Street, Madera said. Another witness, Christopher Groh, said Romero passed him at such a high speed that his car shook, she said. Groh got out of his car to help Romero, but by the time he got there, the defendant had run away, Madera said.

Romero ended up back at the Hurricane Bar, where he told Gutierrez it wasn’t him who crashed into the bar manager’s Cadillac, Madera said.

“The defendant says to Mr. Gutierrez, ‘I was kidnapped by the car. It wasn’t me,’ Madera said.

Romero still had the car key around his neck and police were checking to see if it matched the BMW, Madera said. Investigators later collected MacDonald’s DNA from the outside of the car, the prosecutor added.

Romero’s blood alcohol level was measured at 0.18 two hours after the accident, Madera said. He also had marijuana in his system, the prosecutor added.

In 2012, Romero pleaded guilty to drunk driving and received what is known as a Watson Counsel, which warns DUI offenders that if they’re caught drunk driving and kill someone again, they’ll face charges ranging from manslaughter be upgraded to murder, Madera said.

“When questioned by police, he recalled that warning,” Madera said.

Romero’s attorney Madeline Berkley of the Orange County Public Defender’s Office said the collision was “tragic,” but she said Romero had no “conscious disregard for human life” that night, referring to the legal standard for an implied one malicious murder legal theory.

A doctor testified how the concussion, which he likely sustained from repeated blows to the head in combat, affected his ability to make decisions, Berkley said.

The fight was “crucial and transformative to what happened,” Berkley said.

She showed jurors cellphone video from social media of the scrum that showed Romero’s fighters repeatedly hitting him with the elbow and head.

“The doctor will tell you that after a blow to the head, it’s difficult to make complex decisions,” Berkley said. “At the end of this trial, I will ask you to plead not guilty to the murder of my client as there is no evidence.” Man convicted of second-degree murder in alcohol-fuelled accident that killed a cyclist in Huntington Beach – Orange County Register

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