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Mostrong's dad, surprise witness testify

July 03, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

El Centro attorney Robert Espinosa on Monday called witnesses to discredit prosecution witnesses during the trial of his client on vehicular manslaughter charges.

The District Attorney's Office is asking a jury find El Centro resident Blake Mostrong, 21, guilty of vehicular manslaughter, driving under the influence and hit and run in connection with the death of Michelle Marie Grady, 17, of Alpine.

Espinosa first called 21-year-old El Centro resident Christina Ruiz to the stand

Before Ruiz could testify, Deputy District Attorney Wayne Robinson objected, stating she was not on the defense's list of witnesses.

That objection led to a nearly hour-long delay as Superior Court Judge Matias Contreras allowed Robinson time to question Ruiz privately.

Ruiz was then allowed to testify.

However, Robinson informed Contreras he would not grant immunity to Ruiz, stating she was 20 at the time she was at the party and if she was found to be drinking or using marijuana during the party she could be prosecuted.

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Contreras asked Ruiz if she understood she could be prosecuted and if she wanted to continue. She responded she had not been drinking or using marijuana during the party and she was willing to continue testifying.

Ruiz testified she was at the party Oct. 7 and did not recall seeing Mostrong there.

However, she did see Blake Reed, one of the prosecution's key witnesses.

Mostrong, according to earlier testimony, was driving his van down Wheeler Road when it struck a motorcycle, golf cart, Michelle and a man. The accident occurred just before midnight.

Reed testified he was in the van and had seen Mostrong drinking beer that night. He further testified he saw a light ahead before the accident and that he had told Mostrong to slow down.

The issue of whether the golf cart, which was stopped in the middle of the road, had its lights on could prove a critical element of the case.

On Monday Ruiz said Reed had been drinking heavily at the party and she remembered he was under the influence.

"Did you see him drink beer on more than one occasion?" Espinosa asked.

"Yes," Ruiz responded.

Espinosa further asked, "Could you determine his state of sobriety?"

She said, "I knew he was drunk."

Ruiz testified she had a conversation with Reed at the party and he told her he was "wasted," which she said meant he was drunk. She also testified she saw Reed throw up.

Espinosa then asked Ruiz if he had attempted to contact her to ask her to testify. Ruiz said that was not the case, adding she contacted him.

Ruiz said she felt she had to present her information after reading an account of Reed's testimony in this newspaper. Ruiz said Reed had lied in his testimony and that made her want to come forward. She never testified specifically about what Reed had lied.

"I wanted to see the truth," Ruiz said.

Robinson asked Ruiz if she drank alcohol. She answered she does not drink.

He asked her if she smokes marijuana. She responded she does not.

Robinson asked Ruiz if she had spoken to Mostrong since Oct. 7. She said she spoke to him about two weeks ago, after she decided she wanted to speak out regarding Reed's testimony.

Espinosa later called to the stand George Wallet, a private investigator hired by Espinosa.

Wallet said he interviewed by telephone Michael Bittick, a prosecution witness who testified earlier about seeing Mostrong with beer and marijuana.

Wallet said when he spoke to Bittick he said he had been too "messed up" at the party to remember what had happened. In actuality, Wallet said Bittick had used an expletive to describe his condition at the party.

Robinson asked Wallet if he had written down notes from his conversation with Bittick. Wallet said he did not, stating he did not think the interview was important at the time since Bittick said he could not remember much from that night.

Robinson also asked, "How do you know it was Michael Bittick?"

Wallet responded Bittick identified himself on the telephone. He said he had no other means of verifying it was Bittick with whom he spoke.

Espinosa finished the day by calling to the stand Mike Mostrong, Blake's father.

Mike Mostrong testified that testimony given by Eric Welter, the man who along with Michelle was hit by Blake Mostrong's van on Oct. 7, was incorrect.

He said statements Welter gave suggesting that Mike Mostrong had gone to see Welter were not true. Mostrong said he never went to see Welter.

Mostrong also said testimony from California Highway Patrol Officer Pablo Torrez, the lead investigator in the accident regarding Blake Mostrong's van was incorrect.

Torrez had said defense photographs of the interior of a van did not appear to portray the same van involved in the crash. He said the interior was different.

Mostrong said the van in the photograph was indeed the same van.

Testimony was to continue this morning in the County Courthouse in El Centro this morning.

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

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