A Georgia man accused of driving under the influence and causing a crash that killed a Lompoc couple near Vandenberg Air Force Base in 2016 now faces felony charges in Santa Barbara County.
Weeks after the federal case was dismissed, Shaquille Lindsey, 25, of Covington, Georgia, has been charged in Santa Barbara County Superior Court with two felony counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and one felony count of driving under the combined influence of alcohol and drugs causing injury. He also faces criminal enhancements for causing great bodily injury, according to the court complaint.
The allegations stem from an Aug. 28, 2016 head-on collision that killed Ruben Betancourt, 51, and Bertha Betancourt, 58, on Santa Lucia Canyon Road. A son, Juan Betancourt, was also in the vehicle and was injured in the crash.
Lindsey, a former airman who had returned to the Central Coast to celebrate his birthday after being discharged from the Air Force for marijuana use, is accused of speeding and crossing over the double yellow lines when his rental car slammed into the Betancourts’ vehicle, according to authorities.
He also was accused of using his cellphone with the federal indictment citing two witnesses who saw Lindsey post photographs or videos of himself driving moments before the fatal crash.
While the posted speed limit is 45 mph, Lindsey was driving 60 mph and accelerated to 63 mph at the time of the crash, court filings said.
Officials at Vandenberg insisted on leading the investigation, saying it occurred in their jurisdiction.
Members of the public traveling to and from the Lompoc Valley regularly use the two-lane Santa Lucia Road, which runs in front of the Lompoc Federal Correctional Complex.
In June 2017, a federal grand jury indicted Lindsey and the case began making its way through the federal court system.
During subsequent proceedings in federal court, some of which happened just weeks before the trial was set to start, authorities determined an incorrect boundary marker for Vandenberg’s boundaries meant the collision had actually occurred within Santa Barbara County jurisdiction.
In July, a federal court dismissed the case, saying it had been filed in the wrong jurisdiction.
Local prosecutors were alerted in June about the jurisdictional issues in the federal case, kicking off new discussions about trying Lindsey in Santa Barbara County, Chief Deputy District Attorney Mag Nicola said.
“It was just a process of evaluating what was already a federal case ready for trial and making sure we received all the information that the feds had to offer and figuring out how we were going to prosecute it, Nicola said Friday.
The state charges filed Friday against Lindsey are similar to those from the federal grand jury indictment and were based on evidence to support prosecution of the allegations.
In a unique twist, District Attorney Joyce Dudley recently appointed two Assistant United States Attorneys, Joanna Curtis and Julian André, as special deputy district attorneys to continue handling this matter as a state court prosecution, she said Friday. She traveled to Los Angeles to swear in the two federal attorneys.
“It was the first time their office had ever done it, and the first time we’d ever done it,” Dudley said.
Andre and Curtis served as prosecutors for the case as it made its way through the federal court system making them familiar with the circumstances.
Authorities have been in contact with the Betancourt family, who have declined to comment to Noozhawk.
“I know the two special deputy DAs that we swore in earlier this week have been in close contact with them from the very beginning and we would like that to continue,” Nicola said. “I know they have been apprised of what has been going and they’ve, I think, been waiting for today.”
Lindsey, who remains out of jail, is scheduled to be arraigned at 8:30 a.m. Sept. 18 in the Lompoc Superior Court.
Even during the federal prosecution, Lindsey was free from custody under the agreement he travel to California for the hearings.
“We do have assurances that he will appear,” Nicola said.
If convicted of the charges Lindsey could be sentenced to between 16 to 19 years in state prison, Nicola said.