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Arraignment Postponed for Alleged Wrong-Way Driver

Richard Rodriguez appears in court to face charges in the Highway 101 crash that killed Goleta residents Macrina Ocampo and Marcos Arredondo

More than 30 relatives and friends of Macrina Ocampo, 58, and Marcos Arredondo, 18, filled a Santa Barbara courtroom Friday for the scheduled arraignment of Richard Rodriguez, the alleged driver in the Nov. 8, 2009, wrong-way Highway 101 collision that killed the two Goleta residents.

Richard Rodriguez
Richard Rodriguez

Rodriguez, 20, of Tustin, faces charges of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and causing great bodily injury to three others, said prosecutor Lee Carter of the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office.

His arraignment was continued to February because Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge George Eskin, who presided Friday for the last time in Department 12, will be moving to civil litigation. Judge Rick Brown, who will be taking over, is filling in for the late Judge William McLafferty. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has appointed court commissioner Colleen Sterne to fill McLafferty’s judgeship.

Rodriguez appeared in court Friday wearing orange — a sign of protective custody. He walked to the front of the courtroom with his eyes on the floor, carrying a manila envelope. The only time he spoke was to say “yes” when he was asked if he was willing to give up his right to a speedy arraignment.

Eskin didn’t know which case was on the calendar Friday afternoon, and he apologized for the hour delay and his “cavalier attitude” when he came into the courtroom. He didn’t know why so many people were at an arraignment and asked jokingly if it was a class.

“I sincerely apologize from the bottom of my heart,” he said.

Carter spoke to some of the family members afterward, explaining that it was a serious and complicated case, which is why it was continued.

The delay was a joint request from the attorneys since Eskin would be leaving, Carter said, adding that he doesn’t want the case to drag out and will push it forward once it goes before Brown.

Rodriguez is represented by Dyke Huish, who also spoke with family members afterward.

Rodriguez was allegedly driving under the influence and the wrong way on Highway 101 when he hit the four-passenger car carrying Ocampo, Arredondo and Arredondo’s two younger sisters. Arredondo’s parents were in the car ahead and were able to swerve to avoid Rodriguez’s car.

Ocampo died at the scene, and Arredondo died after being transported to the hospital. His sisters, Karina and Yessika, who were in the backseat, were seriously injured in the crash. Karina was in a wheelchair in the courtroom Friday, and Yessika is still undergoing rehabilitation.

The felony charges Rodriguez is facing could carry a maximum sentence of 19 years in prison. The initial charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years, and each count of great bodily injury carries a maximum of three years.

Ocampo was best friends with Marina Arredondo, Marcos’ mother, said Nora Arzate, one of Ocampo’s eight children and only daughter. She said the family is not doing well.

Nora and Rolando Arzate were just two of the many people in court Friday, and said they intend to continue attending Rodriguez’s court dates.

Donations to the Macrina Ocampo/Marcos Arredondo Memorial Fund can be made through Santa Barbara Bank & Trust.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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