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A Gilroy man pleaded not guilty to vehicular manslaughter
charges on Wednesday, saying that the July 4 collision that killed
a 48-year-old Salinas man was just a tragic accident.
Robert Orabuena, 41, entered the not guilty plea in San Benito
County Superior Court on Wednesday morning following a reduction in
the charges against him.
A Gilroy man pleaded not guilty to vehicular manslaughter charges on Wednesday, saying that the July 4 collision that killed a 48-year-old Salinas man was just a tragic accident.

Robert Orabuena, 41, entered the not guilty plea in San Benito County Superior Court on Wednesday morning following a reduction in the charges against him.

Prosecutors formally notified the court that it was dismissing second-degree murder charges against Orabuena, however, members of the district attorney’s office said they will still prosecute him on one count of gross vehicular manslaughter, a felony; vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence, a misdemeanor; reckless driving with injury; and one count of driving with no proof of insurance, according to court proceedings.

Superior Court Judge Harry Tobias ordered a reduction in the amount of bail to $30,000 to reflect the reduction in charges.

Prosecutors said they dropped the murder charges after three toxicology tests conducted by the state Department of Justice’s crime labs revealed that Orabuena had neither alcohol nor any illegal drug in his system.

“The District Attorney’s office has known about this since July 11 (and) in the meantime an innocent man has been sitting in jail for more than a month,” Orabuena’s attorney Arthur Cantu said.

Even Orabuena’s previous defense attorney, Greg LaForge, weighed in on the issue as the first person to tell the district attorney’s office that the charges against Orabuena would not hold up in court.

“As his former attorney, I can tell you that this is not a murder case. It never was and what is getting lost in all this is they can’t prove it.”

Deputy District Attorney Denny Wei, who is prosecuting the case, said the District Attorney’s Office did not overcharge the case.

“At the time this was charged, the facts fit the case,” Wei said.

On the evening of Orabuena’s arrest, a California Highway Patrol officer who responded to the scene said Orabuena failed a field sobriety test and displayed signs of marijuana intoxication.

“The officer obviously could not recognize the signs of someone going into shock after watching a man die right in front of him,” Cantu said.

District Attorney John Sarsfield has said that he will not comment on the details of the case but stands by the actions of his office.

“We have followed all the standard procedures and have not done anything out of the ordinary,” Sarsfield said in a previous interview.

Orabuena is scheduled to be back in court on Aug. 20 for another hearing.

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.

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