Wreckage from fatal crash on Highway 154 that killed a San Luis Obisop County pharmacist two years ago.
An Arroyo Grande man was killed in this June 2020 carnage on San Marcos Pass above Santa Barbara, and a Santa Barbara man is going to prison for causing it. Credit: Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo

A Santa Barbara man has been transferred to the custody of the state prison system after pleading no contest in a criminal case linked to a fatal crash that killed a San Luis Obispo County pharmacist on Highway 154 in 2020.

Oscar Pereyra, 63, was ordered to stand trial on charges of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and reckless driving causing great bodily injury following a preliminary hearing.

The charges were filed following the June 5, 2020, head-on crash involving an eastbound Toyota pickup truck and a westbound Hyundai Sonata. It occurred at about 10:40 a.m. near West Camino Cielo, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The Toyota, driven by Pereyra, crossed the double yellow lines and slammed into the Sonata before overturning and coming to rest on its roof. 

The driver of the Sonata, Michael Liu, 31, a pharmacist from Arroyo Grande, was declared dead at the scene.

Pereyra had to be extricated from the wreckage after being critically injured in the crash and had a leg amputated.

Although Pereyra had several beers at a friend’s house in Solvang the night before the crash, he reportedly had no alcohol in his system after the crash, according to court documents. If he had tested positive for alcohol, he could have faced a murder charge.

He did have methadone in his system because he was enrolled in a treatment program that required him to avoid imbibing in alcohol, according to testimony at the preliminary hearing. 

Last fall, Pereyra took an open plea to the court with the agreement he would be sentenced to four years in state prison after pleading no contest to gross vehicular manslaughter. 

He entered his open plea directly to Judge Michael Carrozzo and did not have a deal with the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office

Unlike a plea deal with the prosecution, an open plea means a defendant did not receive any assurances regarding the sentence and leaves it up to the judge, who typically indicates the likely punishment. 

Under the deal, the reckless driving charge Pereyra faced was dismissed. 

Deputy District Attorney Michelle Mossembekker objected to the plea deal and asked the judge to at least sentence Pereyra to the maximum for the charge.

She argued for a six-year sentence “due to the dangerous conduct and noted his “extensive criminal history” of Pereyra in pushing for a longer sentence.

Pereyra’s criminal history dates back to 1978 with more than a dozen cars and multiple stints in state prison. 

However, the judge rejected the request. 

Pereyra, who was represented by attorney Adam Pearlman, was ordered to pay restitution of $15,927 and will be on parole for up to three years after serving his prison time.

Since his sentencing, Pereyra had remained in the Santa Barbara County Jail before being transported last week to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s Inmate Reception Center in Wasco.