Driving a forklift backward for a long time and distance is unsafe for several reasons, an expert testified Friday morning in the Santa Barbara County Superior Court trial of a man charged in connection with a double-fatal crash two years ago east of Santa Maria.

Daniel Castillo, 38, of Santa Maria is on trial for two counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, with special allegations of causing great bodily injury, causing bodily injury to more than one victim, and committing a serious offense.

Castillo was driving the forklift in reverse Aug. 29, 2013, on Philbric Road near Stowell Road when the heavy equipment struck a Honda Civic, killing two people and seriously injuring two others.

Larry Iunker, a motor vehicle specialist with the California Highway Patrol, testified Friday about his post-accident assessment of the Caterpillar R-50 forklift, which authorities contend the defendant intended to drive in reverse nine miles to his home.

“It would be, in my opinion, a very dangerous way to drive a forklift for a long period of time,” Iunker said.

Driving in reverse while looking backward would cause the steering wheel to move more than intended, making it very hard to control, he added.

The crash instantly killed Adolfo Pozos Carrasco, 16, of Santa Maria and a passenger in the left rear seat, Casilda Diaz Pozos, 49, of Santa Maria. 

Two other female passengers — Mayte Carrasco and Celiset Pozos, both of Santa Maria — suffered major injuries. 

Additionally, Iunker said forklifts are not designed to drive fast. 

“The faster you go, the more unsafe it would be,” the witness added. 

That type of forklift is designed to be transported longer distances while towed behind another vehicle, Iunker said as Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Foley displayed a photo of the ignition with keyhole settings for tow, park and drive.

The expert’s testimony also supported earlier statements from farm workers who saw the forklift driving erratically before the crash, with the forks raised higher than deemed safe. 

Foley asked about the recommended height for the mast with the forks.

“The lower the better,” Iunker said, adding 6 to 8 inches is recommended.

He estimated Castillo’s forklift was raised some 24 to 36 inches, a height that affects the vehicle’s center of gravity.

He also told about noticing an odd lump under the forklift seat when examining the vehicle more than two months after the crash.

“What was the lump?” Senior Deputy District Attorney Stephen Foley asked.

“It as a 12-ounce Budweiser can emptied and crushed in the seat,” Iunker said.

Before the jury began hearing testimony Friday, Castillo’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Sydney Bennett, and Foley argued about whether testimony about the discovery of the beer can should be admitted. 

Foley told Judge John McGregor that it helps prove the recklessness, gross negligence and poor decision-making that led to the fatal crash.

While Castillo claimed he drank a beer with his lunch at 10 a.m., Foley said could have been closer to the mid-afternoon crash.

Bennett said there was no evidence about when Castillo consumed the beer.

“Because of that, it’s speculative and not relevant,” she said of the beer can discovered nearly two months after the crash.

“It’s circumstantial evidence,” Foley said, noting that it matched the size and brand of beer the defendant claims to have had.

Later under cross examination by the defense attorney, Iunker said CHP officers and tow yard employees have access to the storage area where the damaged vehicle sat after the crash.

He also said he wasn’t able to shift to third and fourth gears during his examination of the vehicle. 

Another witness, Craig Rude, an investigator with the CHP, recounted his findings from reviewing the accident scene, including the unusual tire friction marks on the asphalt created by the forklift.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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Janene Scully | Noozhawk North County Editor

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com.