LeBeau could pull plea, get new trial in DUI crash that killed boy

Loren LeBeau leaves court in 2012 in his fatal DUI case.
Loren LeBeau leaves court in 2012 in his fatal DUI case. Fresno Bee Staff Photo

Loren LeBeau, the former Central High School boys basketball coach serving a 12-year sentence for a drunken-driving crash that killed a 7-year-old boy, could get a new trial.

In a decision made public Thursday, the 5th District Court of Appeal in Fresno allowed LeBeau’s defense attorney to file a motion to set aside his plea. He entered a no-contest plea to charges of gross vehicular manslaughter, hit-and-run causing death and injuries, and drunken driving. LeBeau is at the California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi.

The appeals court ruled Thursday that Judge Gregory Fain incorrectly denied LeBeau’s request for a continuance during his 2013 sentencing hearing. The defense had discovered new evidence, but because it failed to submit a written motion two days in advance, it was not allowed to push back the hearing.

LeBeau has 60 days to formally file the motion, the appellate court noted.

State appeals court rules the trial judge incorrectly denied Loren LeBeau’s request for a continuance during his 2013 sentencing hearing.

Steve Wright, Fresno County assistant district attorney, said that if the motion is granted, LeBeau’s criminal trial would return back to the pre-trial phase it was at when he entered into the plea. He would be transferred from Tehachapi to the Fresno County Jail. He could possibly even be freed on bail during the criminal proceedings.

The crash killed 7-year-old Donovan Maldonado, who was with his family when he was hit in a crosswalk on Shepherd Avenue between Millbrook and Perrin avenues in the evening hours of July 25, 2012.

Donovan was fatally injured after he was dragged under LeBeau’s car for more than 800 feet, according to police estimates. His father, Jesse Maldonado, also suffered serious injuries. Donovan’s younger sister, Bella, then 18 months, was near death but was revived at the hospital.

Roger Nuttall, LeBeau’s new attorney during the appeals process, explained what led to Thursday’s decision.

While the criminal case against LeBeau was proceeding, Fresno attorney Warren Paboojian brought a civil lawsuit against LeBeau and the city of Fresno on behalf of Donovan Maldonado’s family.

As part of the civil suit against the city, Paboojian hired an accident reconstruction expert. His aim, Nuttall said, was to prove that the crosswalk intersecting the road was configured badly, making the city liable for damages at the potentially dangerous scene.

LeBeau’s criminal attorney at the time, Jeff Hammerschmidt, found out about a reconstruction video the day before LeBeau’s sentencing.

At the sentencing, Hammerschmidt asked Fain to continue the sentencing. Fain denied it, saying that such a motion needs to be made in writing at least two days before the sentencing. Hammerschmidt explained that he did not know about the new evidence in time to make a written motion, Nuttall said. But Fain upheld his ruling.

On Thursday, the appeals court ruled that Fain abused his judiciary discretion, Nuttall said.

The collision re-creation evidence could affect whether Loren LeBeau was the true reason for the accident that killed 7-year-old Donovan Maldonado.

The city eventually settled with the Maldonado family, paying $1.15 million in damages. The city also put a bike path under Shepherd Avenue so pedestrians would not have to cross the busy road where Donovan and his family were struck.

LeBeau was also found liable and his insurance company paid the Maldonados $100,000.

Nuttall believes that the collision re-creation evidence, and the fact that the city settled and changed the road, could affect “proximate cause” – whether LeBeau was the true reason for the accident. LeBeau was facing a slew of serious charges, Nuttall said, which may not be as easy to prove given the new evidence. LeBeau was facing up to 26 years in prison if convicted on all counts.

Nuttall plans to file a motion to set aside the plea within the 60-day window.