A “series of bad decisions” led Daniel Castillo to erratically drive a forklift in reverse at a fast speed on a road east of Santa Maria, where it collided with a car, killing two people and injuring two others, a prosecutor told a jury Monday.
Castillo, 38, of Santa Maria is on trial for two counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, with special allegations of causing great bodily injury, causing bodily injury to more than one victim, and committing a serious offense.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Stephen Foley told a Santa Barbara County Superior Court jury that on a clear afternoon Aug. 29, 2013, Castillo decided to drive a forklift to his home nine miles from his father’s business.
En route, the forklift struck a car carrying four “hardworking” field workers on Philbric Road near Stowell Road, Foley said.
“What was not clear was the defendant’s mind and body,” Foley said. “He had methamphetamine running through his blood as he drove the forklift backward as fast as it would go.”
Killed were Adolfo Pozos Carrasco, 16, of Santa Maria, and a passenger in the left rear seat, Casilda Diaz Pozos, 49, of Santa Maria. Both were declared dead at the scene.
Two other female passengers — Mayte Carrasco and Celiset Pozos, both of Santa Maria — suffered major injuries.
“What you’re going to learn in this case is methamphetamine distorts good driving judgment and leads to risk taking,” Foley said.
Foley noted that the forklift lacked safety equipment such as a red triangle, and did not have an escort vehicle.
At least one of the victims was ejected from the car.
“Her head was crushed by the forklift,” Foley said. “Her face was unrecognizable.”
Foley said witnesses will testify that the forklift driver was going too fast, backwards, didn’t have control and lacked safety precautions.
Shortly after the wreck, Castillo told California Highway Patrol officers he had a beer at lunch a few hours before the accident and claimed to have taken a Vicodin. He later admitted snorting a line of methamphetamine a day earlier, although Foley said the timing of that would be disputed.
Castillo also allegedly told CHP officers after the accident, “I shouldn’t have had the pedal all the way down.”
Investigators used a series of factors to assess whether Castillo was impaired, including pulse rate and blood pressure, both of which were elevated, according to Foley.
“These are things about the body which can’t be concealed through effective acting,” Foley said.
A blood test showed Castillo had methamphetamine in his system, but no science correlates to the forklift driver’s level of impairment at the time of the accident, he added.
“What you’re going to learn in this case is methamphetamine creates a driving impairment that is very distinctive,” Foley said.
In her opening statement, Castillo’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Sydney Bennett, said the drug recognition evaluation used by law enforcement is “too simple.”
She also contended it employs a subjective analysis, and that law enforcement officers lack the expertise to make a medical diagnosis.
Bennett told the jury they would hear “quite a bit” of scientific testimony in the trial.
“The science does not support the assertion that Mr. Castillo was under the influence of methamphetamine,” she added.
The first witness, Martin Gamez Puentes, a truck driver for Acquistapace Farms, said he was in a nearby field filing a water truck when he observed the fast-moving forklift he estimated was going about 30 mph.
“The second thing was that he was going backwards,” the witness said through a court interpreter.
Additionally, he noted the vehicle’s “forks” were raised to three feet, much higher than the six inches recommended when driving.
“I know that it’s dangerous,” Puentes said in response to the question from Foley. “On a forklift it’s dangerous.”
Puentes, who has taken safety courses related to operating forklifts, said accidents are more likely when the forks are elevated.
“I just saw it was being driven backward, it was going very fast and it was losing control,” he added.
He said he expected the forklift to crash into one of the nearby nearby canals.
While he didn’t see the crash, he said he heard the “blow” of the impact with a green Honda Civic.
“When I got there, I saw two bodies laying there with their heads destroyed,” he said.
Fidel Sandoval, a ranch manager with Los Padres Berry Farms, also testified Monday that he saw the forklift driving on the road, and noted a lack of safety precautions, the usual height of the forks and the fast speed it was moving in reverse.
“We move them pretty slow, like 10 miles per hour, because they’re pretty dangerous,” he said, adding he was contemplating calling police.
He also said the forklift driver appeared to be looking down at the line in the road to guide the vehicle.