A Lompoc woman accused of driving recklessly and at 100 mph before causing a crash that led to the death of a Santa Barbara man last year has been held to answer to vehicular manslaughter and another charge.
Dinara Arevalo, 25, faces two felony charges related to the incident that began in Lompoc and ended on the Gaviota Coast on Oct. 1, 2018.
At the end of Friday’s preliminary hearing, Lompoc Superior Court Judge Raimundo Montes De Oca ruled that probable cause existed for Arevalo to face the charges.
Those charges — vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and felony evading an officer — stem from a crash that caused the death of Michael D. Garcia, 58, of Santa Barbara. Garcia, who had been in a coma and in critical condition after the collision, died 10 days later.
In addition, Arevalo faces allegations for inflicting great bodily injury on Brett J. Bronstad, 60, also of Santa Barbara.
Deputy District Attorney Stephen Wagner called three law enforcement officers to testify during the hearing, held to spell out whether enough evidence existed to support the charges. They testified about the defendant’s alleged dangerous driving on city streets as well as two highways.
“The court has heard evidence of numerous vehicle code violations that I think also help support both counts,” Wagner said, adding that the actions displayed gross negligence.
He said no evidence existed to show that culpability by a third party, such as a wild animal or other factors, contributed to the crash’s cause. He also noted that his questioning did not sugarcoat the role that Arevalo’s mental health played that day.
“The significance of that, your honor, does not parlay logically, legally or procedurally into an adequate defense,” Wagner said.
Defense attorney Catherine Swysen disagreed.
“This is obviously a very tragic case for all parties involved,” she said.
Arevalo suffered from serious mental health issues, a factor that the defense attorney argued could not be ignored.
During the preliminary hearing, Lompoc police Cpl. Leo Garza testified that he responded to calls involving disturbances at an apartment complex in the 400 block of West North Avenue. One caller claimed that her brother had a knife and was in the midst of a mental breakdown, while a second said it was the man’s daughter. The brother was not at the site, and the concern centered on the daughter.
Garza recalled that the defendant had a blank stare and odd demeanor. As police attempted to sort out the situation, the defendant allegedly fled in a Toyota RAV 4 vehicle, driving erratically through Lompoc.
“She ran every stop sign that we encountered,” Garza said, later estimating the number at seven.
Arevalo’s vehicle also reportedly reached speeds of 60 mph in one 30-mph zone.
At one point, Garza, a motorcycle officer, pulled up alongside Arevalo’s vehicle.
“She seemed to be talking to somebody who wasn’t there,” he said.
The chase reportedly continued onto Highway 1, where Arevalo at times allegedly exceeded 100 mph, along with passing on double yellow lines and the shoulder.
Lompoc police terminated their pursuit because of the unsafe conditions, but California Highway Patrol officers Kevin McCool and Timothy Reynolds later encountered the Toyota RAV4, with the driver allegedly continuing to speed while passing unsafely.
Eventually the vehicle entered Highway 101, where CHP officers continued their pursuit before the vehicle struck the Toyota Tacoma. Bronstad was the driver, and Garcia was the passenger. The impact caused the Toyota Tacoma to rotate clockwise, leave the roadway, become airborne, overturn and land on its rooftop near the railroad tracks close to a cliff, McCool said. Arevalo’s vehicle ended up in the center median.
Under questioning from the defense attorney, Garza agreed it was obvious that something was happening to Arevalo and that her parents had expressed concern about her well-being.
Swysen asked if police officers called Crisis and Recovery Emergency Services, or CARES, which responds to help during mental health emergencies.
“We didn’t get a chance to call them,” Garza said.
Swysen asked if Reynolds had been advised about the driver’s possible mental health issues.
“I found that out later on, but I did not know that at the time,” Reynolds said.
After deciding to hold Arevalo to answer, the judge ordered the attorneys to return next month.
The defense attorney filed a motion for the matter to be transferred to mental health treatment court, so the judge scheduled the attorneys to return at 8:30 a.m. Oct. 24 to consider the request. De Oca said the additional time will allow the prosecuting attorney to submit a response to the defense motion.
— Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.