A Turlock man who was behind the wheel in a fatal collision that took the lives of three people all from one family was sentenced to prison Monday.
Luis Cruz, 30, was sentenced in Stanislaus County Superior Court to 23 years and four months for the deaths of 4-year-old Brian Flores, his mother Julia Flores, 20, and his grandmother Elena Flores, 47 on Sept. 6, 2014.
In September Cruz accepted a plea deal that saw him plead no contest to three counts of gross negligent vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, with an enhancement of leaving the scene of a collision, according to the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office. In exchange, the district attorney’s office dropped the three murder charges that were originally filed against Cruz.
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. The video of his second interview with investigators was included in his preliminary hearing and showed Cruz admitting that 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.” In the same video Cruz said he was driving 60 to 80 miles per hour through the neighborhood when he lost control.
A field sobriety test was administered to Cruz the night of the collision. According to the testimony given during Cruz’s preliminary hearing, Cruz was exhibiting several outward signs of being intoxicated, including swaying, losing his balance, unable to follow instructions, and slurring his speech. Cruz failed the field sobriety test and was placed under arrest. His breath test showed a blood alcohol level of .16 and .17, more than twice the legal limit for driving. In a subsequent interview with a Turlock Police detective, Cruz said he had three beers that night then later changed it to six.
During the preliminary hearing the prosecution presented DNA evidence that linked Cruz to the driver’s side of the BMW involved in the crash.
Cruz had a prior arrest for driving under the influence in 2007, but the charge did not result in a conviction.
The family members of the victims opted to not make a statement at the sentencing. They have filed a civil lawsuit against Cruz, which is still pending.