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Local News

Blood Tests Ruled Admissible in Trial for 2012 Crash That Killed Santa Ynez Valley Teacher

Blood tests reportedly showing Benjamin Lee Bettencourt had alcohol in his system can be admitted during his trial for allegedly driving drunk and killing a friend more two years ago in the Santa Ynez Valley, a judge said Friday.

Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rogelio Flores ruled Friday afternoon against the defense motion seeking to discard the evidence related to blood tests.

Bettencourt, now 39, is charged in connection with a November 2012 single-vehicle wreck on Highway 246 near Ballard Canyon Road, critically injuring his passenger, Jennifer Clark, 39, of Los Olivos. Clark, a teacher in the Santa Ynez Valley, died a few days after the crash.

Bettencourt’s attorney, Darryl Genis, argued the test had been contaminated during analysis at the California Department of Justice lab in Goleta.

“The records indicate that in fact the laboratory procedure was not followed,” said defense witness Janine Arvizu, a chemist who has worked as a laboratory quality auditor.

Under questioning from Senior Deputy District Attorney Kevin Duffy, a lab representative said the facility has not been shut down due to noncompliance and disputed the defense witness’ testimony regarding the lab’s testing procedures.

“I think she’s wrong on that,” said Dean Warden, a senior criminologist at the Goleta lab.

The judge’s ruling clears the way for jury selection, which is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon. Flores also set aside Tuesday morning to settle other pre-trial matters.

The hearing Friday included spirited discussions between Genis and Duffy, prompting the judge to chide the men several times.

At one point, Flores instructed the attorneys to get to “meat and potatoes,” noting the trial’s looming start date.

“I expect way more from both of you,” Flores said after another verbal spat.

This is the second fatal crash involving the defendant, who is confined to a wheelchair due to injuries he received in the 1998 incident. That post-prom crash on Alisos Canyon Road killed one of his passengers, Lesley Alejo, 18.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully 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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