A 23-year-old Modesto man appeared in court Monday on a murder charge related to a traffic crash near Knights Ferry last summer.
Rafi Jack Mitri was arrested at his home in the 1100 block of Courtney Way on Friday. He is accused of murder in the death of 81-year-old Frank Garcia of Modesto, who was killed Aug. 26 on Highway 108 when his Ford Ranger was hit head-on by a Hyundai Accent driven by Mitri.
In addition to murder, Mitri is charged with vehicular manslaughter and reckless driving causing injury for the injuries to Garcia’s passenger, 72-year-old Richard Martinez of Oakdale.
Mitri also faces an enhancement for personally inflicting great bodily injury to his passenger, 23-year-old Amanda McSweeny of Oakdale, and two special allegations that he was on felony probation at the time of the crash.
Mitri was on probation for possession of marijuana for sale and selling marijuana to a minor under the age of 14.
If he is convicted, special allegations and enhancements could add time to his sentence.
Michael Vitiello, a professor at the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, said murder can be charged in traffic cases in which the defendant shows extreme indifference to human life.
“There are cases involving Russian roulette, which is risk-taking, or drag racing, where the conduct is so extreme given the circumstances, but most of the classic cases involve some type of intoxication,” he said.
On the day of the crash, Mitri was traveling east at high speed and had passed at least one car when he attempted to pass another, crossing over a double yellow line on a curve and then crashing head-on with the Ford driven by Garcia, according to the California Highway Patrol.
Both cars ended up on the westbound shoulder, and the Ford caught fire, with both Garcia and Martinez inside.
Passers-by stopped to rescue the men. One used a crowbar to pull Garcia from the car and suffered burns to his arms in the process. A nurse performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Garcia, but he died at the scene.
One of Mitri’s relatives attended his arraignment Monday. They both wiped away tears as a bailiff led him out of the courtroom. The relative declined to comment.
Mitri did not enter a plea because his public defender asked that his arraignment be continued to March 16. He will be held in Stanislaus County jail without bail until then.