An Alameda County man accused of driving drunk and killing three people in a Highway 99 crash near Le Grand will face murder charges, a prosecutor with the Merced County District Attorney's Office said Thursday.
The prosecution's plans were revealed during an afternoon court hearing for Martin Magallanes Deleon, 43. Deleon is accused of causing a July 18 crash on Highway 99, south of Worden Avenue.
The incident was the deadliest crash reported in Merced County last year -- and one of the victims was a 12-year-old boy.
Deputy District Attorney Steven Slocum, the prosecutor in the case, filed a motion to amend the complaint against Deleon to include three counts of second-degree murder. Judge Ronald Hansen scheduled a May 6 date to rule on the motion, to give the Merced County Public Defender's Office time to review the case.
Dressed in an orange jumpsuit, Deleon said little during the court hearing and listened through a Spanish interpreter. Slocum said his office decided to file murder charges against Deleon because he was convicted of causing a DUI crash in 2001. "We determined, based on the defendant's history, that second-degree murder charges are appropriate," Slocum said.
Up until this week, Deleon, a Newark resident, had been represented by Eddie Ruiz, a private attorney from Fresno. The case was turned over to the Public Defender's Office after Ruiz left the case. Ruiz said he asked to be relieved as Deleon's attorney because the original charges didn't include murder.
The day of the fatal crash, Deleon lost control of his 2000 Nissan X-Terra while driving in the fast lane on northbound Highway 99 at about 70 mph, according to the CHP. The X-Terra drifted to the left, traveling across the grass center median. Deleon's car collided head-on with a 2000 Ford Mustang, and the Mustang collided with a 2002 Chevy Tahoe.
Three people in the Mustang were pronounced dead at the scene. The dead were identified as 12-year-old Christopher Mata, 26-year-old Gabino Romero-Robles and 21-year-old Ricardo Romero-Robles, all of Orosi.
The arresting officer at the scene noted Deleon's eyes were red and watery and his speech was slurred, according to court documents. A preliminary alcohol screening determined Deleon's blood alcohol concentration was 0.185 percent -- far above the state's 0.08 percent legal limit. A second test determined his BAC was .185.
After his arrest, Deleon was charged with 18 counts, which included felony driving under the influence and three counts of gross vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence. He was previously convicted of DUI in Alameda County after his car crashed into a Dumpster in Hayward on Christmas morning 2001.
If Deleon is convicted of second-degree murder in Merced County, he faces 15-years-to-life in prison.
Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.