Fatal hit-and-run suspect to be arraigned
Accused of killing a fellow North Tahoe resident last summer while driving under the influence of alcohol, Joseph Santen has been ordered to appear for his arraignment next month.
During the preliminary hearing Wednesday, defense and prosecuting attorneys questioned nine Placer County sheriff’s and California Highway Patrol witnesses, ending with a ruling from Superior Court Commissioner Trilla Bahrke ordering Santen to an arraignment hearing where he’ll be formally presented with his six
The arraignment is scheduled for July 16 in Auburn, where Santen is expected to enter a “not guilty” plea and the judge to set a trial date, said Placer County Deputy District Attorney Chris Cattran.
Santen, 36, faces felony charges of murder, gross vehicular manslaughter, two counts of driving under the influence of alcohol and hit-and-run with injury or death.
He is also being held for a misdemeanor charge of driving with a suspended license.
If he is convicted of the murder count, the Tahoe City resident could be sentenced to 15 years to life, Cattran said in a phone interview Thursday.
Plus he could get an additional eight months for hit-and-run, the prosecutor added.
While Santen was driving home from playing cards at the casinos in Crystal Bay on July 16, 2006, Placer County Sheriff’s deputies allege he hit 27-year-old bicyclist Brad Reilly with his Jeep and continued to drive west to his Tahoe City home, dragging the mangled bicycle with him nearly a mile from where Reilly’s body was discovered by passersby.
Placer Sheriff Sgt. Michael Lyke was the first officer on scene just after 11 that evening and attended to Reilly. Reilly appeared to have sustained significant injuries from a collision, officers said, and Lyke worked to clear Reilly’s airway.
“He was basically drowning in blood at that point,” Lyke told the court Wednesday.
Reilly was pronounced dead from blunt force trauma at Washoe Medical Center less than three days after the collision.
Investigators discovered a pair of shoes and a California license plate in the Lake Forest area and bicycle pieces further down Highway 28.
According to Placer Sheriff deputies’ testimony at Wednesday’s prelim, they used the license plate found at the scene to locate Santen’s residence on the 1300 block of North Lake Boulevard early in the morning of July 17. There they discovered a car covered with a blue tarp and Santen standing in just his boxer shorts at the top of the driveway.
“He expressed some remorse … [He said] ‘I’m very concerned for the person also involved in the accident,'” Placer deputy Matthew Winczner testified.
Officers uncovered Santen’s Jeep and noted substantial front-end damage to the car and a broken windshield, they said.
Placer Deputy Richard Schnoor also told the court Wednesday that Santen said, “I’m glad you guys came up, I don’t think I could live with myself.”
After reading Santen his Miranda rights, California Highway Patrol officer Matthew Calcutt said he questioned Santen at his home. Santen said he has been playing cards at the casinos in Crystal Bay, had drunk two Heinekens over the course of several hours and was driving home when he ran into the rear of a bicyclist headed in the same direction, Calcutt reported.
“He stated to me he hit the bicyclist and there was a loud noise … he did not state the bicyclist hit the windshield,” Calcutt testified.
Santen told him that he didn’t stop his car because he was scared of driving with a suspended license, Calcutt said.
Calcutt said Santen spoke slowly and deliberately and slurred his words, that he had an odor of alcohol and his eyes were bloodshot.
“He had been drinking and currently under the influence of an alcoholic beverage at the time and at the time of the crash,” Calcutt testified.
Calcutt recalled that Santen said he drank three of four shots of vodka and smoked a bowl of marijuana after arriving home following the accident.
Officers arrested Santen just after 2 a.m. He provided a blood sample more than an hour later that determined his blood-alcohol content at 0.19, nearly four hours after the collision. The legal blood-alcohol content threshold for driving under the influence is .08.
Santen has three prior convictions of driving under the influence of alcohol. In 2001 he was arrested for a hit-and-run with a Caltrans snowplow while intoxicated, and in 2002 was transported by helicopter to a Reno hospital for treatment after falling from a water tower while drinking, according to Cattran.
“This is the defendant’s fourth DUI; it’s not his first rodeo,” Cattran said.
Santen, dressed in a clean orange jumpsuit and white New Balance tennis shoes, did not take the stand Wednesday. He sat beside his attorney, Jordan Morgenstern, keeping his eyes low and occasionally blotting his face with a tissue.
“It’s very important we carefully establish the critical element that he was under the influence,” Morgenstern told Commissioner Bahrke. “There’s been no proof that Mr. Santen was intoxicated at the time of driving.”
Cattran disagreed, saying that according to expert testimony Santen’s blood alcohol content was at least .27 at the time of the accident.
“[The defense] is attempting to attack the blood-alcohol level at the time of driving,” Cattran said.
Following the arraignment hearing, Cattran said Santen will likely face a jury within the next year.
“It depends on how fast his attorney can be ready to go to trial,” the prosecutor said.
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