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Local News

Trial Ordered for Suspect in Fatal Hit-and-Run of Former Santa Barbara High Coach

CHP officers testify at a preliminary hearing for Lau Van Huynh, 78, of Murrieta, charged in the death of 22-year-old Simon Chavez

California Highway Patrol officers recounted a horrific scene on Monday as they testified about the death of a 22-year-old Santa Barbara man whose mangled remains were found on Highway 101 after what they allege was a hit-and-run accident involving an elderly Southern California man.

The body of Simon Chavez, a former Santa Barbara High School baseball coach, was found just after 1 a.m. Jan. 15 on the southbound lanes of Highway 101 near the Ortega Street footbridge.

Several witnesses reported that Chavez had been staggering in traffic before he was struck, according to testimony Monday in Santa Barbara County Superior Court.

Chavez was pronounced dead at the scene after Santa Barbara police and CHP officers arrived just minutes later.

Pieces of a white 2011 Hyundai Tucson, including the left driver-side mirror, were found at the scene, but the driver had not stopped.

Eleven days later, police arrested Lau Van Huynh, 78, of Murrieta on charges of felony hit-and-run, and hit-and-run with fatal injuries in Chavez’s case.

Investigators had found a vehicle matching the description in his garage, and had to obtain a search warrant to search the vehicle, after Huynh’s daughter told them they couldn’t search the vehicle and that she didn’t know anyone by her father’s name, according to testimony Monday.

Huynh, clad in a blue jumpsuit and listening to the proceedings through a Vietnamese translator, appeared in Judge Clifford Anderson’s courtroom on Monday afternoon.

At the end of the hearing, Anderson ruled that enough evidence exists to send Huynh to trial.

Deputy District Attorney Sanford Horowitz introduced two witnesses, both of whom were California Highway Patrol officers.

Officer Robert Grindy, who said he has conducted about 350 collision investigations in his time with the CHP, was the first to take the stand.

He testified that he responded to the scene just after dispatch reported several calls from people who had seen the young man on the highway.

Grindy arrived to find multiple emergency personnel at the incident, and began walking the scene with another investigator.

“Immediately, we noted that there were various body parts strewn throughout the roadway, and also various vehicle parts,” he said.

Horowitz showed Grindy a picture of Chavez’s body lying in the roadway between the first and second lanes, and the officer confirmed that it was Chavez and that he had taken the photograph himself.

Horowitz pressed Grindy further about exactly what had been discovered during his investigation, and Grindy said both of Chavez’s shoes had been found, along with the vehicle’s left sideview mirror, a piece of plastic fender, and various vehicle components and a piece of headlamp glass. 

Grindy also described a gruesome scene with human remains “strewn about the lanes.”

Blood and hair fragments were found on the mirror, and the fender had a “blue streak” on the driver side panel, which Grindy said could have been a result from the denim jeans Chavez was wearing. 

The vehicle was nowhere to be found that night, he said, and the driver did not call dispatch.

Huynh’s attorney, Peter Chang, asked Grindy about the first person to call 9-1-1, who confirmed that Chavez had no reaction when the person yelled at him as he drove by.

Grindy said the witness hadn’t remarked whether Chavez had seemed to be under the influence, however. 

Chavez’s toxicology results, which would reveal any alcohol or drugs in his system, have not been released by the Santa Barbara County Coroner’s Office.

Chang also questioned whether the blue streak could have come from Chavez’s jeans, and Grindy said that no forensic testing had been done to match the fabric and the color embedded in the fender.

When asked what other evidence was seen on the vehicle, Grindy said he had found what looked like brain matter burned into the bulb of the left front headlamp of the car.

CHP Sgt. Andrew Chapman also took the stand, and said he and other investigators saw a white Hyundai with Huynh driving leaving the Chumash Casino at 12:33 a.m. Jan. 15.

The vehicle was registered to Huynh at his address in Murrietta, Chapman said, and an investigator later went to the address, where he saw the suspect vehicle in the garage.

Chapman said Jamie Huynh, the suspect’s daughter, wouldn’t allow the investigator to speak to Huynh.

After a search warrant was obtained, Chapman said, the vehicle appeared “as if it had been wiped down” on the driver’s door panel and where the collision damage was.

In spite of that, “there was some hair stuck to the molding,” Chapman said, and also confirmed the blue streak on the fender, as well as the bodily matter on the left, front headlamp.

Chang asked why there would still be evidence if the vehicle had been wiped down, and Chapman responded that evidence could still remain embedded on the car.

Chapman said Huynh appeared at the California Highway Patrol office to turn himself in on Jan. 26 after the search warrant was issued.

On Feb. 28, the case will go before Judge Jean Dandona.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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