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Driver in Big-Rig Crash Charged with Vehicular Manslaughter

Joaquin Garcia Morales, who lost control of his brakes on Highway 154, is scheduled to be arraigned Monday

The Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office announced Wednesday that three felony counts of vehicular manslaughter have been filed against the gravel-truck driver who crashed into a home near the Hope Ranch Inn last summer, killing a family of three.

The driver, Joaquin Garcia Morales, is scheduled to appear in court Monday for arraignment.

Prosecutor Stephen Wagner has been assigned to the case with Senior Deputy District Attorney Arnie Tolks.

Leon Leonel, 23; his wife, Lorena Guadalupe-Tellez Pacheco; and their son, Jaciel Tellez, 8, a Franklin Elementary School third-grader, died Aug. 24, 2010, after Morales lost control of his brakes while traveling down Highway 154 from San Marcos Pass and plowed into the family’s house at 4119 State St.

Details emerged after the crash that the driver had a history of driving citations, and that the truck had brake problems even before leaving the Santa Ynez Valley quarry where it picked up a load that brought the weight of the truck to 80,000 pounds.

The accident prompted discussion about Highway 154 safety, and county officials voted in January to pursue legislation that would subject trucks carrying freight on the highway to restrictions.

District Attorney Joyce Dudley said the office had been waiting for one last report from the California Highway Patrol before they could proceed with the charges, and only received it Tuesday. Dudley also said she brought Wagner in Tuesday, who is an expert in cases involving collisions that result in death.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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