A Fresno man who got drunk while fishing is on trial in Fresno County Superior Court, accused of four counts of murder in connection with a fatal head-on collision on Highway 180 east of Mendota that killed four people, including two children, in June 2014.
In opening statements Monday, defense attorney Marina Pincus told jurors that Rien Ban, 45, never intended to kill anyone. Pincus also said the cause of the fatal collision is in dispute.
In his opening statement, prosecutor William Terrence said Ban knew the dangers of drinking and driving because he had two prior convictions for drunken driving, in 2000 and in 2006. After each conviction, Ban completed a court-mandated program that taught him the dangers of drinking and driving.
And in his last conviction, Terrence said, the judge warned Ban that if he drove while under the influence of drugs or alcohol and killed someone, he could be charged with murder. Ban told the judge he understood the admonition, Terrence told the jury.
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The trial in Judge Jonathan Conklin’s courtroom will take two to three weeks. If convicted, Ban faces life in prison.
The fatal collision happened in the late afternoon of June 22, 2014, on Highway 180 near Sonoma Avenue east of Mendota.
Ban is being tried for second-degree murder under the legal theory of “implied malice.” To get a murder conviction, the prosecution has to prove he drove under the influence, knew driving while drunk was dangerous, and showed a conscious disregard for human life.
The collision happened in the late afternoon of June 22, 2014, on Highway 180 near Sonoma Avenue.
The California Highway Patrol said Ban was driving east when his Mercedes SUV smashed into a westbound Kia sedan.
Suyapa Quezada, 37, of Mendota was seriously injured. Her two sons, Lisandro Enriquez Rodriguez, 10, and Danny Enriquez Rodriguez, 7, and her sister, Belkys Rodriguez Quezada, 25 and engaged to be married, died in the crash. Also killed was Sinoeun Uong, 37, who was a passenger in Ban’s SUV.
Ban, who was also seriously injured, was taken by helicopter to Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno. Terrence said a CHP officer and emergency crews smelled alcohol on his breath. Two hours after the collision, Ban’s blood-alcohol was .21, or nearly three times the .08 legal limit to drive, Terrence said.
Fresno defense attorney Marina Pincus said Rien Ban was drinking and driving. The real issue, Pincus said, was whether Ban’s actions constitute four counts of murder.
According to Terrence, Ban was driving east on the two-lane highway when he decided to pass a car. Ban drove into the westbound lane and passed the slower eastbound vehicle. Meantime, Suyapa Quezada, who was driving west on 180, saw the SUV in her lane and turned left into the eastbound lane to avoid a collision, Terrence said. The SUV, however, turned right and the two vehicles smashed into each other in the eastbound lane, the prosecutor said.
Pincus, the defense attorney, gave a different account of the crash.
She said Ban was home in Fresno when his daughter called him and said her car had broken down near Los Banos. Ban borrowed a friend’s Mercedes SUV and drove to help his daughter.
After fixing his daughter’s car, Ban, his daughter and their friends drove to a slough in Mendota to fish for crawdads. After a day of drinking, Ban drove his friends home.
Pincus said Ol Oeum, a passenger in Ban’s car and whose wife, Sinoeun Uong, died in the crash, told the CHP that Ban had passed the slower eastbound car and had safely returned to the eastbound lane. According to Pincus, the Kia was in the eastbound lane because Quezada was passing a westbound car.
Pincus said Ban was drinking and driving. She said the real issue was whether his actions constitute four counts of murder.