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Espinosa: CHP officer talked to jurors

June 13, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

High drama marked the third day of the Blake Mostrong vehicular manslaughter trial as his attorney alleged the California Highway Patrol officer who investigated the Oct. 7 accident spoke to jury members outside the courtroom.

It was shortly after 4:30 p.m. Tuesday and moments after the jury was ushered out of the courtroom when attorney Robert Espinosa of El Centro brought the allegation against California Highway Patrol Officer Pablo Torres.

Espinosa told Superior Court Judge Matias Contreras that Torres had spoken with juror No. 7 and at least one other juror outside the courtroom.

Torres, who responded to the Oct. 7 accident in which a van reportedly driven by Mostrong, 20, of El Centro struck and killed Michelle Marie Grady, 17, of Alpine on Wheeler Road, denied Espinosa's allegations.

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Deputy District Attorney Wayne Robinson, who has had Torres sitting with him during the trial, said Espinosa was making an allegation without proof.

Espinosa said, "It's a damn serious allegation."

Contreras warned that no one is to talk with the jury, adding should Espinosa make such an allegation again, the matter could have an effect on the proceedings.

Espinosa's allegations came after a day in which a witness testified he had almost hit a golf cart and those by the golf cart the night of Oct. 7.

A 911 tape also was played of the call for help by those at the scene.

The District Attorney's Office has charged Mostrong with vehicular manslaughter, driving under the influence and hit-and- run driving.

The defense is contending the golf cart, in which Michelle and a friend had been riding, was stopped on the wrong side of Wheeler Road and in the line of traffic when the accident occurred shortly before midnight.

Much of the testimony has focused on whether the golf cart had on its lights at the time of the accident. The prosecution has stated the lights were on, the defense has claimed the lights were not on.

Prosecution witness Imperial resident David Lewis testified he had been on Wheeler Road the night Michelle was killed.

He was in the area with his son to ride "quads" in the late evening, Lewis testified.

Robinson showed Lewis a photograph of the golf cart struck by the van. He asked Lewis if he recognized the cart.

Lewis responded he had seen that golf cart twice the night of Oct. 7, first when he drove by it when it was stopped on Wheeler Road and later when he went to the crash scene.

Robinson asked Lewis if he had seen a vehicle go by his camp site that evening.

Lewis responded he had seen a Volkswagen van drive by with its lights out.

"How many people were in the van?" Robinson asked.

"One person," Lewis responded.

"Did you tell police this?" Robinson asked.

Lewis responded, "Yes, sir."

Robinson showed Lewis a photograph of a van stranded in the desert that was thought to have been involved in the accident. Robinson asked Lewis if that was the van he saw.

He responded it was.

Under questioning by Espinosa, Lewis testified that he could describe, at least in part, the person he saw in the van.

He described at first seeing the silhouette of a young man he thought was between ages 20 to 25. He also said the driver had bushy hair and a tan complexion.

"Could you tell me the color of his eyes?" Espinosa asked.

"No," Lewis responded.

Espinosa also told Lewis, "You really have a lot to say. You have a lot to get off your chest."

Lewis responded, "I have nothing to get off my chest."

Espinosa then brought up that in a conversation with Lewis prior to the trial, Lewis had said he almost hit the golf cart and those by it while driving on Wheeler Road.

"You told me you almost hit them," Espinosa said.

"Yes, sir," Lewis responded.

"You told me if you were going faster you would have hit them," Espinosa further stated.

"Yes, sir," Lewis again responded.

"You wanted to tell them something, but you didn't," Espinosa said to Lewis, and Lewis said he had wanted to tell the people to move but he didn't.

Lewis did not recall seeing lights on the golf cart when he passed it.

Robinson then called Sandra Lopez, a Highway Patrol dispatch supervisor, to authenticate a tape he wanted to play of the 911 call received the night of the accident.

After her testimony, the tape was played.

On the tape could be heard the voice of Doug Folsom, the San Diego-area resident who was in the desert with Michelle and other friends Oct. 7

Folsom, according to testimony, saw the golf cart stopped on the road. He then went to get gas for the cart and told those with the cart, Michelle, Eric Welter and Charlotte Land, to turn on the golf cart lights.

On the tape, Folsom, who drove upon the scene after the crash occurred, told the dispatcher his friends had been hit.

He said there was a 17-year-old girl who was barely conscious. He said she was having a hard time breathing.

Earlier in the day, the 37-year-old Folsom was called to the stand by Robinson.

Under questioning by Robinson, Folsom said he had advised his friends to turn on the lights of the golf cart while he went to get gas.

Folsom testified that after the crash, he saw that the lights on the golf cart were on.

Before Espinosa questioned Folsom, he asked Folsom if he had been granted immunity by the prosecution.

That question led Contreras to remove the jury from the courtroom.

During the discussion outside the presence of the jury, it was determined Folsom had been granted a form of immunity in that the prosecution would not use his statements against him.

Espinosa questioned Folsom on the issue of the golf cart being in the road.

"Did you think to tell those kids they were parked on the wrong side of the road?" Espinosa asked.

"No," Folsom responded, but added, "I thought to tell them to turn on the lights."

Testimony was to continue at 9:30 this morning.

Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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