The motorist accused of running over an 83-year-old Fresno man in a wheelchair and leaving the scene will stand trial on felony charges, a judge ruled Tuesday.
If convicted of the charges – vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, reckless driving and hit-and-run – 22-year-old Edgar Ernesto Rueda faces about 11 years in prison, his lawyer said.
Fresno County Superior Court Judge Jonathan Conklin made his ruling after a witness to the fatal incident said it appeared Rueda was racing with another motorist.
But Rueda’s attorney, Robert Lamanuzzi, said Rueda was only trying to get in front of the other car so he could turn right at McKinley Avenue, get on the freeway and go to work.
Police say Jose Rodriguez was in his electric wheelchair crossing Cedar Avenue in east-central Fresno when he was struck by a 2005 Dodge Ram pickup around noon July 20, 2015.
Rueda left the scene and was arrested a few days later. Police said Rueda later admitted to investigators that he was driving the pickup that hit and killed Rodriguez, an Army veteran.
In court Tuesday, Magali Salmoran, 30, who witnessed the fatal crash, testified that she was driving north on Cedar behind the pickup when they stopped for a red light at Olive Avenue. To the right of the pickup was a northbound gray car, she said.
When the light turned green, Salmoran said the pickup and the gray car sped off. She said neither car spun its tires or revved its engine, but they were going at least 50 mph in a 40 mph zone.
Salmoran testified that she could see the man in the wheelchair because he was wearing a bright colored vest.
“Please don’t cross the street,” Salmoran testified she was thinking at the time.
She said once the man entered the street in his wheelchair, the gray car slowed down and did not hit him. The pickup, however, had to hit the brakes. She recalled seeing smoke from the tires.
62 to 68 mph speed estimated by an accident reconstruction specialist that Edgar Ernesto Rueda was traveling when his pickup hit 83-year-old Jose Rodriguez while he was crossing Cedar Avenue in July 2015
“I know he tried to avoid it but it was too late,” she told the judge.
Wiping tears from her eyes, Salmoran testified that she saw the man hold onto his wheelchair as it flew into the air. She said she saw it crash down onto the street. “It was not a good scene,” she said.
An accident reconstruction specialist also testified for the prosecution, saying Rueda was speeding at 62 to 68 mph when he hit the wheelchair.
According to Lamanuzzi, Rueda, a construction worker, was going from one job to another job when the crash happened. He said he left the scene because he got scared. The gray car also left the scene.
And after Rueda was arrested, he cooperated with the police investigation and wrote an apology letter to the victim’s family, Lamanuzzi said.
After his ruling, Conklin allowed Rueda to remain free on $25,000 bail. His next court date is June 7.