A superior court judge threw out felony vehicular manslaughter
charges filed against Robert Orabuena for lack of evidence.
Superior Court Judge Alan Hedegard dismissed the felony charge
during a preliminary hearing Wednesday stating, the prosecution
could not meet the standard necessary to hold Orabuena, 41, of
Gilroy, to stand trial for a felony.
Hedegard said in order for Orabuena to be guilty of felony
The court requires that the defendant acted with gross
negligence. In this case, I do not find that the defendant acted
with gross negligence.
A superior court judge threw out felony vehicular manslaughter charges filed against Robert Orabuena for lack of evidence.
Superior Court Judge Alan Hedegard dismissed the felony charge during a preliminary hearing Wednesday stating, the prosecution could not meet the standard necessary to hold Orabuena, 41, of Gilroy, to stand trial for a felony.
Hedegard said in order for Orabuena to be guilty of felony vehicular manslaughter, “The court requires that the defendant acted with gross negligence. In this case, I do not find that the defendant acted with gross negligence.”
Orabuena’s defense attorney, Arthur Cantu, said he was pleased with the judge’s ruling, which will keep his client out of prison.
“We’re so happy that the judge was able to see through the bull, because it was bull, and come to the conclusion that Mr. Orabuena committed no felony on that day,” Cantu said.
The defense was successful in part because of the testimony of expert witness Eric Deyerl, a mechanical engineer out of Los Angeles. He has served as an expert witness in hundreds of accident cases.
It was Deyerl’s examination of the accident scene and mathematical calculations that determined Joseph Judnick, 48, of Salinas, was traveling between 78 and 87 mph on Fairview Road while riding a 2002 Harley-Davidson V-Rod motorcycle. When Judnick saw Orabuena making a left turn into a private driveway about 300 feet ahead of him, he tried to stop but was going too fast.
“By the time Mr. Judnick began to perceive the situation, he was about 250 feet away from the van,” Deyerl said.
He testified that at that distance and the speed at which he was traveling, Judnick could not stop in time to avoid crashing into the van, despite taking some extreme measures to try to stop the motorcycle, which included laying it on its side for nearly 166 feet.
“Ultimately the motorcycle was sliding fully on its side just before impact,” Deyerl said. “At the time of impact, the motorcycle was traveling at 65 to 70 mph.”
He said if Judnick had been traveling closer to the posted 55 mph speed limit, he’d probably be alive today.
“It’s my opinion that the cause of the accident was excessive speed on Mr. Judnick’s part,” Deyerl said. “I think the accident could have been easily avoided had Mr. Judnick been traveling at a more reasonable speed.”
However, Deputy District Attorney Denny Wei argued vehemently during the hearing that Orabuena was negligent and should be standing trial for causing a deadly July 4 accident that killed Judnick.
“The defendant saw that the motorcycle was headed toward him and he turned anyway,” Wei said. “It’s irrelevant how fast that motorcycle was going. People speed all the time, but that does not give them the right to cut other people off or turn in front of them.”
Although Hedegard’s ruling was a victory for the defense, Orabuena will still stand trial for two misdemeanor charges and one vehicle code infraction – reckless driving, misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter and driving without proof of insurance.
“There are still two other cases left to go,” Wei said. “We will be ready to go on them.”
Cantu said the prosecution of Orabuena is a complete waste of time and the taxpayer’s money because District Attorney John Sarsfield should have seen the case for what it was, a tragic accident and left it at that.
“Instead of spending the past eight months researching all the severe and violent felonies to help defendants, he should have spent that time trying to learn how to win a trial,” Cantu said. “We believe that he is wasting thousands of dollars on a case that should have been thrown away.”
Because Orabuena’s case was originally appointed to Public Defender Greg LaForge’s office, and he was recused from the case with some prompting of the district attorney’s office, Cantu was appointed to defend him. The cost for attorneys appointed by the court is paid by the public.
Orabuena is scheduled to be back in court Oct. 1 for a misdemeanor hearing. If found guilty, he could spend up to a year in jail, depending on a judge’s ruling.