by Â Joan Trossman Bien
One of the hazards that we live with on a daily basis is coming across a drunk driver. For some reason, we just donâ€™t talk about drunk driving much anymore. Now the discussion is about distracted drivers. It is all about texting while driving. In fact, we compare the danger of texting while behind the wheel with being drunk. Since texting is even more likely to result in a horrific crash, we have relegated drunk driving to the oblivion of been-there done-that.
Last week, a Ventura County jury decided a fatal case of driving under the influence that occurred in 2011. The verdict was guilty.
This is a story about a drunk driver who never stopped drinking and never stopped driving. It wasnâ€™t until he slammed into the back of a car waiting at a red light at 40 miles per hour that Francisco Xavier Martinez, 36, was finally stopped. Even then, it wasnâ€™t easy.
Martinez lives in my town of Moorpark in Ventura County. It is close to idyllic, as Southern California towns go. The right size, nice neighbors, clean streets, and we worry about things like tree trimming and how cold it always seems to be inside of the local Vons.
We didnâ€™t know that we had a murderer living in our midst. We didnâ€™t know that every time Martinez got behind the wheel, he might be so drunk that he couldnâ€™t stand up. But he could make his truck go fast.
On August 24, 2011, around 9:00 p.m., Martinez was driving his pickup truck as he approached a major intersection. His blood alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit when he was finally tested. At full speed, Martinez exploded into the rear of the car right in front of him. Inside, a woman was five months pregnant. She was seriously injured. The fetus died.
According to prosecutor Tate McAllister, â€śHe hit them with incredible force. They (parents) were looking forward to having the child before this defendant ripped the child away from them.â€ť
Martinez tried to run from the accident, driving his crippled and crumpled truck on the wrong side of the road for about one and a half miles. He pulled into a parking lot and fled on foot, hiding in some bushes.
â€śHe refused to come out,â€ť McAllister said. â€śThe K-9 unit had to drag him out of the bush so that officers can arrest him.â€ť
But that is just the last part of the story.Â Martinez, who was driving without a license, had been down the road of drunk driving before. In fact, he had four prior convictions for drunk driving and driving without a license.
When Martinez was arrested the first time in 1998, he was also charged with using his vehicle to assault the person who was trying to report him. Martinez was convicted of drunk driving three more times before he killed someone.
Looking at it another way, he drove drunk, and was caught and released, caught and released, caught and released, caught and released, until he finally killed someone.
How is it possible that this person who had no interest in other peopleâ€™s safety, who had no intention of following the law, and who clearly had a real problem with alcohol, was still out there with a vehicle instead of having it impounded and spending a lot of time in jail?
Someone dropped the ball. They dropped it four times. Where is the responsibility of the prosecutors and the judges? How did he get off so lightly four times earlier? Look, this dude tried to kill someone else with his car while he was drunk and without a license. That was just the first time. How serious does the crime need to be before prosecutors and judges and juries take that kind of hostile, vicious, reckless behavior seriously enough to protect the public from his addiction to dangerous behavior?
Why arenâ€™t the prosecutors and others being punished for knowingly allowing a public menace to repeat his potentially deadly actions five different times? How dare they pretend to be enforcers of the law. They are complicit. Martinez could not have hurt anyone in 2011 if they had done their jobs on four other occasions.
McAllister said that Martinez is facing a sentence of 20 years to life. Even if he gets life in prison, he will have the possibility of parole. My guess is that he will be given a considerably shorter sentence and then will be out again after serving one third of it. It is outrageous. There is no justice when the law is practiced in this manner.
The defense attorney, Martin Zaehringer, told a reporter that he felt the jury may have had a difficult time dealing with the facts because when a pregnant woman is injured it can be so emotional. He added that the jury needed to look past Martinezâ€™s prior DUI convictions. Is it just me or are the four other drunk driving convictions exactly the point? They were not only relevant, they established a pattern that predicted what happened in 2011.
Then, Zaehringer said something that should have caused him to lose his job. He said he felt the case didnâ€™t rise to the level of a conscious disregard for human life. As far as legal analysis goes, thatâ€™s the most bone-headed lie I have heard from a lawyer in quite a while. And I have been subjected to some legal whoppers in the past few years. A statement like that from a defense attorney is unacceptably stupid and callous. Even defense lawyers are expected to know the law.
The jury disagreed with the defense and convicted Martinez of second degree murder. If what Martinez did is not considered to be callous disregard for human life, what the hell is?
Time to take another look at drunk driving and get really angry. It is not merely a case of making a mistake. It is not just showing poor judgment, and it is not an accident. When someone puts that drink to their lips over and over again, they know they are drunk. When they slide into the driverâ€™s seat and turn the key, they know they will be driving while drunk. What part of that is an accident?
There is an update to the article â€śA Murder Just Waiting to Happenâ€ťÂ (March 2, 2013).
Moorpark resident Francisco Martinez was sentenced to 23 years eight months to life for his conviction of second degree murder.
On August 24, 2011, Martinez slammed into the rear of a car waiting at a red light in Moorpark, injuring a pregnant woman and killing her fetus. It was the fifth drunk driving conviction for Martinez since 1998. Martinez, who police say never possessed a valid California driverâ€™s license, had a blood alcohol level of .25.Â That is more than three times over the legal limit of .08
Joan Trossman BienÂ has been writing news most of her professional life. She started writing as an intern at KNX Newsradio and wrote as a freelancer at nearly every television station in Los Angeles. She graduated from law school in 2004.Â At present, she is a regular writer for cover features at the Ventura County Reporter and Pasadena Weekly. She enjoys writing about an array of topics including health care, politics,Â womenâ€™s issues, and social justice.Â Bien lives with her journalist husband in Ventura County. They have one grown daughter who is also a journalist. Bien hales from Glencoe, Ill., a small suburb outside Chicago.