Prosecutors on Thursday formally filed a charge of murder against Matthew David Gibbs, who is accused of driving while intoxicated and hitting an off-duty police sergeant riding his bicycle in Modesto.
Gibbs, 32, of Modesto, made his first appearance in Stanislaus Superior Court Thursday afternoon. Along with the murder charge, Gibbs is accused of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence while intoxicated in the death of Modesto police Sgt. Mike Pershall, who was riding his bicycle near his home.
The defendant did not enter a plea Tuesday. Judge Linda McFadden postponed his arraignment until Tuesday to give Gibbs’ family a chance to make financial arrangements and hire Modesto Attorney Robert Forkner’s office to represent the defendant.
Gibbs will remain at the county jail without bail. At next week’s hearing, the defense can ask the judge to review the case and set an appropriate bail amount for the defendant.
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About 20 to 30 members of the Modesto Police Department attended Thursday’s hearing, which lasted about 10 minutes. Among them was Chief Galen Carroll who spoke to news media after the hearing.
“We realize this wasn’t an on-duty death, but it sure feels like it because our officers were the first ones there,” Carroll said.
Gibbs entered the courtroom wearing a red-and-white jail inmate jumpsuit with shackles on his wrists and ankles. He sat quietly in the courtroom, only speaking to confirm his name and birth date for the judge.
Several of the defendant’s relatives and friends also attended Thursday’s hearing. They did not comment after leaving the courtroom.
NO VALID DRIVER’S LICENSE
Prosecutors also charged Gibbs for driving with a suspended or revoked driver’s license, a punishment he received for a previous DUI conviction. Gibbs is accused of driving at an “unsafe speed” and making an “unsafe turn,” according to a criminal complaint filed Thursday morning by the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office.
The deadly crash occurred shortly after 6 p.m. Tuesday on Merle Avenue, west of Fine Avenue near Dan Savage Middle School in east Modesto. Authorities found Pershall, who’d been riding a bicycle west along the north edge of Merle, on the road in a westbound lane. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Gibbs was driving a Volkswagen Coupe west on Merle and struck the rear of Pershall’s bicycle, knocking him off the bike, the California Highway Patrol reported. The CHP is leading the investigation of the fatal crash.
The Volkswagen reportedly drove up onto the north curb, struck a fire hydrant and came to a stop along the north side of Merle, west of where Pershall was struck by the car.
Gibbs was taken into custody by the CHP after he displayed signs of impairment.
PREVIOUS DUI CONVICTION
In Stanislaus County, Gibbs had an April 2012 arrest that resulted in a misdemeanor DUI charge that was dismissed in 2014.
Also in 2014 in Siskiyou County, Gibbs pleaded no contest to DUI with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher. He admitted to an enhancement of having a blood alcohol content of 0.20 percent or higher. Gibbs also pleaded no contest to driving on a suspended or revoked license.
Pershall had been with the Modesto Police Department since 2012. Before then, he worked for the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Department.
Carroll said Pershall was popular guy in the department, leading by example and always happy to come to work. He reminded the public that there’s no reason to drink and drive with so many cab and ride-sharing services available.
“Mike is no different than many of the other victims of drunk driving,” Carroll said. “This is just one tragic example.”