Fresno man on trial for drunken-driving crash that killed his girlfriend

A 49-year-old man with three convictions for drunken driving is on trial in Fresno County Superior Court, accused of driving while intoxicated again and killing his girlfriend in a crash nearly three years ago on Highway 99 in Fresno.

In opening statements of the Superior Court trial, prosecutor William Lacy said Monday that Angelito Amancio Romero is charged with murder in the death of 38-year-old Jennifer Starr because he had been warned by a judge in 2008 that if he got drunk and killed someone, he would face a murder charge.

If convicted, Romero faces 15 years to life in prison.

The trial in Judge Gary Hoff’s courtroom should take one to two weeks.

Starr was the mother of four children and a Fresno County eligibility worker who listed Reedley as her hometown. She and Romero lived together.

In presenting his case, Lacy said Romero was driving south on Highway 99 around 70 mph when he lost control of his van and crashed into tree near Clinton Avenue shortly before 1 a.m. on June 7, 2013. Starr was thrown into the back of the van and died instantly. Romero was pinned behind the steering wheel, Lacy said. He told the CHP that he had been drinking, Lacy said.

His blood-alcohol level was later determined to be .15, or nearly twice the .08 legal limit to drive, Lacy said.

Romero was convicted of drunken driving in 2008, 1996 and in 1990, Lacy said.

During his 2008 conviction, a judge told Romero that if he got drunk and killed someone, he could be charged with second-degree murder under the California Supreme Court ruling in People v. Watson. Lacy told the jury that the judge not only read the “Watson advisement” to Romero, but that Romero also signed court documents that acknowledged he understood the court’s warning.

Lacy said there is ample evidence to show that Romero continued to drive under the influence after his 2008 conviction. He said Starr’s daughter will testify that she was with her mother and Romero when he drove intoxicated in the spring of 2013. She will testify that she saw them argue and their vehicle hit a pole, Lacy said. “Fortunately, they made it home,” Lacy said.

A month later, Romero was driving drunk again from a pool hall called The Break Room near Ashlan and Highway 99, Lacy said. Starr didn’t want to get in the car with him, so she started to walk home. Romero then used his car to hit her, causing her to suffer bruises, Lacy said. Starr ended up going home with Romero, he said.

On the night of the crash, Romero came home from work around 4 p.m. and drank a few beers, Lacy said. He later took four or five beers with him as he and Starr drove to The Break Room. At the pool hall, Romero drank more beer, Lacy said. He then stepped out and went to a nearby bar to have a shot of hard liquor, the prosecutor said.

According to Lacy, on the morning of the crash, Romero was in the left southbound land when he suddenly drove across the freeway and hit a tree.

Acknowledging the prosecution’s case, Fresno defense attorney Eric Green said Lacy did a good job presenting the facts. But Green said Lacy forgot to tell the jury that Starr also was drunk; her blood-alcohol was .16, or twice the legal limit to drive. Green said the evidence will show that Romero didn’t cause the fatal crash. He said Romero will testify that he and Starr had an argument while driving home and Starr grabbed the steering wheel right before the van crashed.

But one of the first witnesses on the scene, CHP Officer Eric Halvorson, testified Monday that he spoke to Romero at the crash site. Halvorson said Romero never mentioned anything about fighting with Starr or her grabbing the steering wheel. “He said he didn’t know what happened,” Halvorson said.

Pablo Lopez: 559-441-6434, @beecourts