The preliminary hearing began this week for the man accused of killing three members of the same family while they were out for an evening stroll around their Turlock neighborhood.
Luis Cruz, 29, is facing three counts of murder, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, and one count of hit and run causing death for the Sept. 6, 2014 collision that killed 4-year-old Brian Flores, his mother Julia Flores, 20, and his grandmother Elena Flores, 47.
The Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office contends there is ample evidence pointing to Cruz’s guilt, but the defense claims it was someone else who was behind the wheel that night.
The Flores family was out for a walk in their neighborhood of Rockwood Avenue shortly before 8 p.m. Sept. 6, 2014, when they were hit by a car. Witnesses said a BMW was speeding in the area and that the driver lost control in the area of Rockwood and Boxwood avenues. The BMW swerved up onto the sidewalk, striking the two women and the young boy. The vehicle then struck a utility box and a stop sign. The car crashed into a birch tree, which sent it careening into a home at the corner of Boxwood and Rockwood. The BMW smashed through two bedrooms of the home before coming to a rest. Emily Flores, who was 2 years old at the time, was with her mother, grandmother and brother, but escaped the crash uninjured.
Witnesses saw two men get out of the vehicle and take off running. One man, later identified as Cruz, was apprehended by some of the neighborhood residents when he tripped trying to jump over a fence. The second man, later identified as the passenger Eric Onate, was taken into custody at a house not far from the crash site. He was questioned and released.
Cruz was questioned by police investigators and initially told them it was a man named “Juan” from Merced who was driving the car. He said he let Juan drive because he was too drunk.
He was initially released, but brought back in two days after the crash for additional questioning.
Deputy District Attorney Anthony Colacito, who is prosecuting the case against Cruz, played a portion of the videotaped interview between Cruz and Turlock Police Detective Frank Navarro during the hearing on Tuesday.
Navarro tells Cruz this is his opportunity to tell the truth about the crash, at which point Cruz says the statement he initially gave to investigators about Juan driving was a lie. He said he told them that because he was “scared and didn’t know what to do.”
During the interview Cruz tells Navarro he had three beers to drink that night, but then later changes it to six beers. A test administered to Cruz three hours after the crash showed he had a blood alcohol content of .16, twice the legal limit for driving.
Cruz told the detective he didn’t really remember seeing the family before hitting them. He said he was going somewhere between 60 to 80 mph when he lost control of the vehicle.
“My car just went off the f-----g road,” Cruz told the detective, later adding that it was never his intention to hit anyone.
The prosecution also presented DNA evidence that not only links Cruz to the crash site, but to the driver’s side of the BMW.
Jennai Lawson, a forensic analyst with the Department of Justice, testified she tested a blood stain from the driver’s side airbag that was a positive match for Cruz
The prosecution also called California Highway Patrol Officer William Walton to the stand. Walton testified he pulled Cruz over in 2007 for a possible driving under the influence offense. He testified Cruz failed the field sobriety test and blew a .06 and a .05 on the breath test. He was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence. That charge was later dropped.
The preliminary hearing is being held so a judge can determine if there is enough cause to hold Cruz over for trial on the charges lodged against him.
The prosecution has one more witness to present for their case, but the witness will not be available for the next couple of weeks, so the hearing was continued to Oct. 15.