Sara Jackson was standing on a sidewalk as she saw a white car speeding through a Turlock residential neighborhood a year ago. She said she heard the car’s engine revving up and turned to see it moving at freeway speed.
She continued to watch the car as it went off the road and drove through three people. “They were coming around the corner (walking) on the sidewalk,” Jackson testified in court Monday.
Authorities believe Luis Miguel Cruz was driving the car that struck 4-year-old Brian Flores; his mother, Julia Flores, 20; and his grandmother, Elena Flores, 47, as they walked on the sidewalk in southwest Turlock on Sept. 6, 2014. Emily Flores, 2, was walking with her brother, mother and grandmother but wasn’t injured.
Cruz, 29, of Turlock has been charged with three counts of murder and gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, along with one count of hit-and-run causing death.
Testimony in Cruz’s preliminary hearing began Monday morning with Jackson on the witness stand. She said she was talking to a friend about 7:45 p.m. when she spotted the white car speeding by. “You can tell it was going fast,” Jackson said about hearing the car accelerating.
She testified that the car ran over one person and that the two others were thrown as a result of the impact. Jackson said she saw the youngest injured victim on a nearby lawn, while the older woman was found on the street and the other woman was found on the sidewalk.
Witnesses told police that the car was speeding in the area when it missed a turn and struck the two women and the boy. The car then slammed into a house, and the driver, later identified by police as Cruz, and a passenger got out and ran away.
Authorities say Cruz’s blood-alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit, and that after his car hit the family, rather than stop to try to help, he tried to leave the scene before being detained by passers-by. Cruz and a passenger in the white BMW were taken into custody after the incident at Boxwood Way and Rockwood Avenue. The passenger was not charged in the incident.
Eric Onate testified Monday afternoon that he was the passenger that night in the white BMW driven by Cruz, his longtime friend. Onate couldn’t recall many details about the incident. He said he was asleep in the car when he heard a “boom” that woke him up.
Onate, who said he didn’t want to testify, doesn’t remember the car crashing into the house. He said he got out of the car and spotted a group of people gathering outside the home the car had struck. He also said he doesn’t remember seeing Cruz after the crash. “I don’t remember anything,” Onate said in court.
Turlock police Officer Steve Rodrigues questioned Cruz a few hours after the crash. Portions of the police interview recorded on video were shown in court Monday.
“I wasn’t even driving; my homeboy was driving,” Cruz told the officer while claiming a friend named “Juan” from Merced was driving his BMW.
The defendant gave the officer an elaborate explanation of how that night unfolded. Cruz said he had known Juan for about three weeks because he was trying to sell his 2000 BMW to the man for abut $3,000. But he said he didn’t know Juan’s last name.
Cruz said Juan wanted to buy the car but failed to give him the money, so he picked up Juan at a Merced gas station that day and drove back with him to Turlock. Because he was too drunk to drive, Cruz said, he let Juan – who also had been drinking – drive his car in Turlock. But he didn’t remember the crash into the house.
“We were driving fast, and that’s it. That’s all I remember,” Cruz told the officer. “He was going fast. I don’t know why he swerved.”
Throughout the police interview, which went on for more than five hours, Cruz continued to deny he was driving the BMW when it crashed, even after he was confronted with Onate’s statement to police.
The preliminary hearing is expected to resume Tuesday in Stanislaus Superior Court. At its conclusion, the judge will determine whether there is enough evidence for the defendant to stand trial. Cruz remains in custody at the county jail.