Daniel Castillo

A Santa Maria man was convicted Wednesday of gross vehicular manslaughter and other charges in the deaths of two people killed in 2013 when their car was struck by a forklift he was driving backwards.

A Superior Court jury in Santa Maria returned the verdicts against Daniel Castillo in connection with the Aug. 29, 2013, crash that instantly killed Adolfo Pozos Carrasco, 16, of Santa Maria and a passenger in the left rear seat, Casilda Diaz Pozos, 49, of Santa Maria.

Castillo was driving a forklift in reverse on Philbric Road near Stowell Road when it collided with a Honda Civic.

Two other people, Mayte Carrasco and Celiset Pozos, both of Santa Maria, were critically injured in the crash. 

Castillo was charged with two counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, plus driving while under the influence of methamphetamine causing injury and reckless driving causing serious bodily injury, along with several special allegations.

The jury deliberated for about 90 minutes on Tuesday, then resumed its efforts Wednesday morning. The verdicts were read in Judge John McGregor’s courtroom at 11 a.m.

“I think the jury clearly recognized that the defendant’s conduct was definitely reckless, dangerous and aggressive. To drive a forklift backwards in the manner that he did really demonstrated why the jury came back so quickly,” said Stephen Foley, supervising deputy district attorney.

Castillo’s use of methamphetamine made him reckless, aggressive and dangerous on the day of the crash, Foley told the jury in his closing argument.

“We live in an agricultural community, and I think, for the most part, people are very conscientious and safe in how they operate heavy equipment,” Foley said after the verdicts. “It was clear in this case the defendant didn’t take any steps to be safe for those other vehicles around him. And the reason for that is he was impaired by methamphetamine.”

Family members of the victims were in the courtroom for the verdict but declined to speak to the media afterward.

“This family was ripped apart,” Foley said. “You’ve got a 16-year-old boy killed, his aunt killed, two families struggling to cope … At least today they got some sense of justice that the criminal justice system works for them.”

The family can move forward knowing their loss is accounted for and the defendant will face consequences for his criminal actions, Foley added.

The defense contended there was no evidence Castillo was impaired at the time of the crash.​

Deputy Public Defender Sydney Bennett could not be reached for comment.

Castillo, who had been free after posting $250,000 bail, was taken into custody after the verdicts were announced. His attorney argued that Castillo should remain free until his sentencing, noting her client attended every hearing as required.

He will return to court March 19 for sentencing. He faces up to 15 years in prison.

District Attorney Joyce Dudley said the convictions were the result of the perseverance, diligence and hard work of California Highway Patrol officers and District Attorney’s Office staff.

“This is another heart-breaking instance that proves driving under the influence of ‘meth’ or any intoxicating substance kills,” Dudley said.

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.