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Defendant in Coast Village Road Vehicular Manslaughter Case Appears in Court

Juvenile court hearing focuses on whether Noozhawk can name the now-adult defendant

The 18-year-old motorist charged with hitting and killing a Montecito woman as she walked to her bus stop last May appeared in Santa Barbara County Juvenile Court on Friday.

The defendant, who was 17 at the time of the May 27, 2010, collision, told authorities at the scene that his minivan had swerved and his brakes didn’t work as he traveled west on Coast Village Road near Butterfly Lane early that morning. The vehicle struck Florinda Garcia Flores, 47, who was walking on the sidewalk to the bus stop in front of Montecito Bank & Trust, 1106 Coast Village Road, then ran through landscaping and hit a wall before crashing into the side of Bank of America, 1096 Coast Village Road.

The impact of the collision hurled Flores into the Butterfly Lane intersection and she later died of her injuries.

The defendant is charged with vehicular manslaughter; transportation of marijuana and possession of paraphernalia, which were reportedly found in his vehicle; three vehicle-code violations related to speeding, turning movements and required signals; and lack of evidence of financial responsibility upon request. He is represented by public defender Mark Saatjian.

Noozhawk knows the identity of the defendant but was asked by Judge Thomas Adams not to name him or publish images of him from Friday’s hearing. A Noozhawk reporter and a Noozhawk photographer were allowed into the courtroom with Adams’ permission because of the nature of the charges.

Once in court, media access became the focus of the hearing.

As a Juvenile Court judge, Adams said his concerns are the victim’s family, which was present for the hearing, and to protect the identity of minors. Adams said the court can tell the media not to disclose a minor’s name if those members of the media haven’t already obtained the person’s name or image from other access points. Before Friday afternoon’s hearing, Noozhawk only had multiple off-the-record confirmations of the defendant’s identity.

Therefore, Adams said, at this time “media here” should not disclose a “likeness of identity” of the defendant, although he said he was open to holding a subsequent hearing on the matter.

In Friday’s court appearance, the defendant’s case was continued to March and Saatjian requested that his name not be released.

Adams asked this reporter whether Noozhawk intended to disclose the defendant’s name and the answer was yes, since the defendant is 18, he is charged with vehicular manslaughter and his identity was known even before Friday’s hearing.

Noozhawk addresses the issue of identifying juvenile defendants in its style manual, which is used by its reporters and editors, along with the Associated Press Stylebook.

“As a general rule, we do not name juveniles who are arrested for, charged with, or convicted of minor crimes,” the Noozhawk document reads. “Generally, we will name juveniles who are involved in serious and/or violent crimes.”

Noozhawk publisher Bill Macfadyen said he would accept Adams’ invitation for a discussion of the case.

“We do steadfastly believe that minors merit the highest level of privacy protection,” Macfadyen said. “But the nature of the collision, the high-visibility location and the severity of the charges — and the fact that the defendant is now an adult — outweigh the concerns of confidentiality. We believe the public has the right to know who this defendant is.”

Saatjian argued that the case is “not de-facto an adult case because he turned 18” and having the name released would have detrimental effects to (the defendant’s) life through Internet search-engine results, just as it would have if it were an adult case.

Saatjian also said he had concerns that the Santa Barbara Police Department “has been sharing information” from a “confidential file,” which he said is contrary to the code of juvenile court.

Police Officer Mark Hunt, a traffic investigator, confirmed for Noozhawk two weeks ago that the defendant’s minivan had been destroyed by mistake after the initial investigation. The towing company responsible, Smitty’s, has since been suspended from police-related work for a year as a result of its actions, Hunt said.

Saatjian also had concerns regarding attorney Jeffrey Young’s access to police records. Young is representing Flores’ family in a civil case against the defendant and his parents.

Young said he was made to wait the customary 15 days before he received the documents, as the police department knew of no opposition to his request. He said he will not distribute the information in those reports.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Von Nguyen only requested that a case-access hearing be scheduled far enough out so police and the city attorney can be represented, as the police seem to be “implicated,” she said.

Adams scheduled a hearing on that issue for the defendant’s next court date.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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