A trial began Wednesday for a suspected drunken driver who is accused of killing a Fresno mother of eight and seriously injuring her husband in a head-on collision on Friant Road northeast of Fresno three years ago.
Luis Anthony Moreno, 52, of Kerman, faces a charge of second-degree murder in the death of Blia Vang, 54, who worked at Foster Farms at night and cared for her family during the day.
Moreno also is charged in Superior Court with felony drunken driving causing serious injuries to Yee Her and driving without a license. If convicted of the murder charge, he faces 15 years to life in prison.
Moreno has been in the Fresno County Jail since the deadly collision. Jail records say he also is in custody on an immigration hold.
In opening statements of the trial, prosecutor Sally Moreno said the defendant’s blood-alcohol level was more than .15 when he killed Vang and seriously injured Her. The legal limit for driving is .08. The prosecutor also said Luis Moreno had at least four prior drunken-driving convictions since 1985.
In his last conviction in 2010, Moreno acknowledged in a plea form that he understood that drinking and driving is dangerous to human life. He then was warned in court that if he killed someone while driving under the influence of alcohol, he would be charged with murder, the prosecutor told the jury.
Moreno 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.
Defense attorney Ernest Scott Kinney told the jury that Moreno admits responsibility for Vang’s death but says he is guilty only of gross vehicular manslaughter or negligent homicide – not murder. “He did not have a conscious disregard for human life,” Kinney said.
Moreno will testify on his behalf, Kinney told the jury.
The crash happened about 8:20 p.m. May 5, 2013, on Friant Road near Lost Lake.
According to Sally Moreno, the defendant had been drinking in Kerman either late that morning or in the early afternoon and gotten into a fight with his girlfriend. That evening, he decided to drive to Table Mountain casino.
Luis Moreno was northbound on Friant when his pickup veered into the oncoming lane, where it slammed into a southbound Toyota Corolla driven by Her, then 55, the prosecutor said. A motorist who saw the collision pulled over and called 911. Vang, a passenger in the Corolla, died at the scene. Her suffered major injuries and was taken by helicopter to Community Regional Medical Center.
According to the prosecutor, Moreno had at least three drunken-driving convictions from 1985 to 1992. Eighteen years later, he was again convicted of drunken driving, was placed on five years of probation and ordered to complete an in-patient alcohol treatment program, which he did.