Psychologist: Defendant in Modesto fatal crash mentally unfit to face charges

Rigoberto Ramirez Aleman, 32, is charged with murder in the death of John Bixby, 38, of San Mateo in connection with an Oct. 19, 2014, fatal crash in downtown Modesto.
Rigoberto Ramirez Aleman, 32, is charged with murder in the death of John Bixby, 38, of San Mateo in connection with an Oct. 19, 2014, fatal crash in downtown Modesto. Modesto Police Department

A psychologist has determined that a Modesto man accused of murder in a fatal crash is not mentally fit to face charges. His case remains suspended as the court decides what happens next.

Rigoberto Ramirez Aleman, 32, appeared in court briefly Wednesday morning. He is charged with murder in the death of John Bixby, 38, of San Mateo.

Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Rick Distaso a few months ago suspended Aleman’s case after the defendant’s mental competency came into question. Forensic psychologist Phil Trompetter has evaluated Aleman’s mental health and determined the defendant is not competent. The psychologist has submitted his report to the court.

Deputy Public Defender Greg Spiering on Wednesday gave the prosecutor additional information about Aleman’s past that might be relevant to the issue of the defendant’s mental competency. Deputy District Attorney Anthony Colacito told the judge he needed a few days to review the information before deciding whether he’ll argue against the psychologist’s report.

It’s up to the court to decide whether to send Aleman to a state mental health facility to restore his competency or proceed with his criminal case. Judge Distaso said he wants to make a decision on this case soon because keeping a man who might need mental health treatment at the county jail is not good for anyone involved.

The judge scheduled the defendant and the attorneys to return to court Friday to determine what happens with the case.

The fatal crash occurred about 2:10 p.m. Oct. 19 at 12th and L streets in downtown Modesto. Aleman was driving a Chevrolet Malibu when he ran a stop sign and crashed with an Audi driven by Bixby, according to Modesto police.

Bixby was taken by ambulance to a local hospital, where he died from his injuries. Aleman suffered moderate injuries and was hospitalized before he was released and formally charged with the fatal crash. He has remained at the Stanislaus County Jail ever since.

Authorities have said Aleman showed signs of driving under the influence of alcohol when the crash occurred. Prosecutors have charged Aleman with murder and gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, along with misdemeanor driving without a valid license.

Court records indicate Aleman was charged with DUI, driving with a suspended or a revoked license and child endangerment, as well as drug possession in two separate incidents that occurred a few weeks before the fatal crash. Judge Linda McFadden handled those cases.

Four days before the crash, Aleman pleaded no-contest to misdemeanor driving under the influence of drugs, child endangerment and drug possession. The charge of driving with a suspended or a revoked license was dropped.

Aleman was sentenced to 90 days in jail and formal felony probation for the conviction. He had already been in custody when he entered the no-contest plea Oct. 15, and he had about a month left to serve in his jail sentence. The judge ordered Aleman to return to his jail cell to complete his sentence.

Inmates are given a credit for good behavior while in custody, which means they’re credited with an additional 50 percent of their time already served in jail. Stanislaus County sheriff’s spokesman Deputy Anthony Bejaran said the credit is given to inmates in accordance with state sentencing mandates. With the credit, Aleman initially was scheduled to be released from jail Nov. 13.

Aleman instead was released early from jail on Oct. 19 because of jail overcrowding. Bejaran said the state’s prison realignment has increased the jail population beyond federal capacity standards, so sheriff’s officials are forced to release some inmates early.

“This guy is a danger to public, but we’re forced to oblige by these mandates,” Bejaran said Thursday morning.

Rosalio Ahumada: (209) 578-2394, @ModBeeCourts