Authorities investigating a fiery head-on crash on Highway 154 last month that killed a mother and her two young children said Thursday they have concluded that the other driver deliberately veered into oncoming traffic with the intention of colliding with another vehicle.
That driver, John Roderick Dungan, 28, of Santa Barbara, is facing three counts of murder stemming from the Oct. 25 collision that killed Rebecca Vanessa Goss Bley, 34, of Solvang, and her two young children — 2-year-old Lucienne Bley Gleason, and 4-month-old Desmond Bley Gleason.
“Based upon the evidence we have gathered thus far, we believe that Mr. Dungan intentionally drove his vehicle into the opposing lane of traffic directly at the vehicle carrying Vanessa and her children,” Capt. Cindy Pontes, who leads the Santa Barbara California Highway Patrol office, said during a Thursday afternoon press conference.
“This intentional act caused the deaths of three innocent people.”
Pontes briefed reporters after meeting privately earlier in the day with Max Gleason — Bley’s husband and the father of the two children — to give him an update on the investigation. Details of that meeting were withheld at Gleason’s request.
Murder charges against Dungan were filed Wednesday by the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office, and he is scheduled to appear in Santa Barbara Superior Court on Friday for arraignment.
Dungan’s 2014 Chevy Camaro was westbound on Highway 154 at about 4:45 p.m. on Oct. 25 when he crossed the double-yellow lines into opposing traffic near the Cold Spring Bridge.
He slammed into a 2013 Chevy Volt driven by Bley. A GMC Yukon that was behind the Volt also was involved in the crash.
Both the Volt and Yukon subsequently caught on fire, which spread to the nearby vegetation.
Bley and her children died at the scene, while Dungan suffered major injuries and was airlifted to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.
He was released from the hospital Tuesday night, Pontes said, and was booked into Santa Barbara County Jail, where he was being held without bail.
A 55-year-old Los Gatos man and a 13-year-old boy in the Yukon escaped injury.
Because the investigation into the tragedy is ongoing, Pontes said she could not provide many new details about the case.
She was asked about rumors circulating online that a suicide note from Dungan had been found during the investigation.
“I can’t disclose that information at this time,” Pontes said. “I know that’s out there. That’s been reported upon…We do believe he drove into the opposing lane to collide with another vehicle that was in that lane.”
Investigators served “many, many” search warrants in connection with the case, Pontes said, including at Dungan’s residence on Morada Lane. She would not elaborate on what evidence was found and collected.
“We’re looking at every place that we believe evidence could have been found, and (his residence) would have been one of those locations,” Pontes said.
The CHP has provided a preliminary briefing about the case to the District Attorney’s Office, Pontes said, adding that a final report from the agency’s Multi-Disciplinary Accident Investigation Team likely is months away.
A blood sample was taken from Dungan to determine if alcohol or drugs were a factor in the collision, but results are still pending, she said.
Asked if investigators have interviewed Dungan, Pontes said no: “He did not waive his rights.”
Pontes praised the emergency personnel who responded to the collision scene, and also recognized the “heroic efforts” of the civilians who stopped to help.
“They were both amazing and remarkable,” Pontes said. “They placed their own lives in peril attempting to save the lives of others.”
Dungan has a history of criminal and mental-health issues that are detailed in recent Santa Barbara Superior Court records for a stalking and firearms-related case filed in March.
Court records indicate he has participated in several residential treatment programs since February.
Pontes said she could not comment on how Dungan’s criminal and mental health history might be involved in the case.
Since the fatal crash, the CHP has stepped up its traffic and safety enforcement on Highway 154 between Santa Barbara and Buellton, Pontes said.
She noted that since the beginning of the year, officers have written more than 1,400 tickets and made 55 DUI arrests on the roadway that winds over San Marcos Pass and through the Santa Ynez Valley.
Pontes added that she and other CHP officers will be meeting with Santa Barbara County officials next week to discuss ways to make Highway 154 safer.
Meanwhile, she urged motorists to keep safety foremost in mind.
“My message to people is we really have to, as drivers, take ownership of the fact that, every time we get behind the wheel, we have armed ourselves with a deadly weapon,” Pontes said.
“If we don’t take that seriously, and aren’t responsible behind the wheel, then our lives are in danger, and the lives of everyone else are in danger.”
— Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.