RochelleMcCullough LLP

November 7, 2002 - Crash victim had 0.10 blood alcohol level

On Oct. 10, James Vargas, 34, was speeding on Fitzgerald Road in Simi Valley when he hit a pickup and died. Vargas' blood-alcohol level was 0.10, according to Ventura County Deputy Medical Examiner James Baroni. Under state law, a driver is considered under the influence of alcohol when his level is at least 0.08.Simi Valley traffic unit Sgt. Jeff Malgren said the toxicology result "changes the preliminary collision factor" to driving while under the influence of intoxicants.

Initial newspaper stories on the accident reported that Vargas was fleeing police at the time of the accident, but Malgren said it's unlikely Vargas was aware police were trying to stop him. "He may have been oblivious that (Officer Vernon) Trujillo was behind him," Malgren said.

Malgren gave the following description of the accident:

On the evening of Oct. 10 Trujillo was using radar to enforce the speed limit on First Street when he clocked Vargas going 90 mph on a motorcycle. Vargas slowed for a red light at Bennett Avenue, but the light turned green and he picked up speed again. At that point, Trujillo activated his lights and siren. Vargas made a high-speed right turn on Fitzgerald Avenue and continued east. Then, in the 1100 block, Vargas came upon a pickup also traveling east and signaling for a left-hand turn into a driveway. Vargas attempted to pass to the left of the pickup as it began its turn. The motorcycle struck the driver's side of the pickup. The pickup driver sustained minor injuries. Although Trujillo activated his lights and siren on First Street, the officer was some distance from Vargas, Malgren said. "I don't know if Vargas realized the officer was behind him," Malgren said. "He didn't exhibit behavior that he knew he was being followed when he slowed at Bennett." Vargas' friends were upset by initial newspaper accounts that reported the accident occurred as Vargas, a father of three, fled police.

"There was no doubt he was speeding and trying to pass this truck on the inside. His mistake was his demise." Sankey said at the time of the accident that Vargas was returning home from working on his motorcycle at a relative's home. Vargas worked as a journeyman printer at G-2 Graphic Service in North Hollywood. Sankey said that although Vargas drank an occasional beer, he wasn't a big drinker. Malgren said, however, that on this occasion Vargas mixed two of the worst elements on the road: speed and alcohol. "And it was on a motorcycle," Malgren said. "It doesn't matter how much experience you have; when you have those factors, accidents happen. And that's what this was -- an accident."

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