A Santa Barbara judge granted a gag order in the Highway 154 triple-fatal crash criminal case on Friday, limiting out-of-court statements by involved attorneys, law enforcement officers and court officials.
John Roderick Dungan, 28, was charged with three counts of murder after an Oct. 25, 2019, vehicle collision that killed Rebecca Vanessa Goss Bley, 34, of Solvang, and her children, 2-year-old Lucienne Bley Gleason and 4-month-old Desmond Bley Gleason.
Dungan allegedly was driving westbound on Highway 154 when he crossed into oncoming traffic near the Cold Spring Bridge, slamming head-on into Bley’s vehicle and killing all three occupants.
He was critically injured in the crash and airlifted to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.
Authorities have not said what evidence prompted them to pursue murder charges, but California Highway Patrol investigators believe Dungan drove into the other vehicle intentionally.
Dungan’s attorney, Jeremy Lessem, filed a motion for a protective order to prohibit extrajudicial statements by any lawyer, party, witness, court official or law enforcement officer concerning this case, arguing that it was necessary to give his client a fair trial.
“The facts alone will make jury selection in this matter arduous,” Lessem wrote.
He submitted copies of local news coverage to the court with his motion, and said “exceptionally high media coverage and attention” has caused “a frenzy of wild speculation in the comments sections of these online news sites.”
Some comments have mentioned unreleased details that would only be known by people connected to the case, Lessem said, but he did not specify what case information was disclosed.
Judge Thomas Adams granted the order in Santa Barbara Superior Cour, and Deputy District Attorney Megan Chanda said her office had no opposition to the motion.
No representatives of law enforcement agencies notified of the potential order were in court to oppose it, she added.
Adams mentioned that he would be willing to expand the protection order to Dungan’s other pending criminal case, a March stalking and firearms-related case, even though Lessem did not appear to include it in his motion.
Adams then said he would address that at the next court date on Jan. 31.
Lessem has also filed oppositions to media requests to photograph and video the court proceedings. He asked the court to deny the requests or allow Dungan to dress in civilian clothing in court, with no photographs allowed of his restraints.
Dungan appeared in court for Friday’s hearing wearing orange Santa Barbara County Jail clothing and sitting in a wheelchair.
This is the second Santa Barbara murder case with a gag order, after Judge Brian Hill issued one in the criminal case against Pierre Haobsh, who is accused of killing three members of the Han family of Santa Barbara on March 23, 2016: Herb Clinic Dr. Weidong “Henry” Han, 57; his wife, Huijie “Jennie” Yu, 29; and their 5-year-old daughter, Emily.
The multi-defendant MS-13 trial in Santa Maria also has a gag order in place, although the judge rejected a motion to ban media coverage of the case.
— Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.