Jury trial looms in Tahoe City hit-and-run | SierraSun.com

Jury trial looms in Tahoe City hit-and-run

Joanna Hartman
Sierra Sun

A Tahoe City man accused of striking and killing another local resident while driving drunk last summer will appear in Auburn Sept. 18 for a trial-setting conference.

Joseph Santen, 36, pleaded not guilty again at an arraignment hearing in Auburn Monday to felony charges of murder, gross vehicular manslaughter, two counts of driving under the influence of alcohol and hit-and-run with injury or death.

Santen waived his right to a speedy trial and Placer Deputy District Attorney Chris Cattran and Santen’s lawyer, Jordan Morgenstern, will meet in an Auburn courtroom in September where they will likely set the trial date.

Cattran said if everything goes as anticipated, Santen will face a jury by early winter.

“I’ll be ready for it to go to trial,” Cattran said Tuesday in a phone interview.

While Santen was driving home from playing cards at the casinos in Crystal Bay on July 16, 2006, Placer County Sheriff’s and California Highway Patrol deputies allege he hit 27-year-old cyclist Brad Reilly with his Jeep on Highway 28 near Lake Forest and continued to his residence, dragging the mangled bicycle with him nearly a mile from where passersby discovered an unconscious Reilly.

Reilly, who resided in the North Tahoe area and had worked at Squaw Valley USA, died from blunt force trauma to the head less than three days following the collision.

Santen was arrested at his Tahoe City home around 2 a.m., three hours after the accident. He provided a blood sample more than an hour later that measured his blood-alcohol content at 0.19. The legal threshold for driving is 0.08.

Santen has three prior convictions of driving under the influence of alcohol.

The defense alleges that there is no proof Santen was driving under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident. Santen told arresting officers he drank three or four shots of vodka and smoked a bowl of marijuana after he fled the scene.

If convicted of the murder count Santen could be sentenced to 15 years to life plus an additional eight months for hit-and-run, Cattran said in a previous interview.