Third trial possible in Highway 246 death

2013-02-24T00:30:00Z Third trial possible in Highway 246 deathBy Mike Devich/Staff Writer/mdevich@santamariatimes.com Santa Maria Times

A hearing is scheduled for Thursday to see whether the case against a Lompoc woman for misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter should be pursued further after two mistrials.

“The decision to retry the Jessica Herrera case is under consideration by our office,” Deputy District Attorney Nicholas Smith said. “We’re still considering all the options.”

The two previous trials in Santa Barbara County Superior Court in Lompoc ended with hung juries when all 12 jurors couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict.

Prosecutors said Herrera, then 22, was driving too fast for the conditions on June 11, 2011, on Highway 246 and was inattentive so that she failed to notice a black Honda slowing in front of hers as its driver prepared to turn left into a winery.

The defense argued that California Highway Patrol officers made mistakes during the investigation and said the event was an accident, not a crime.

According to the CHP investigation, Herrera clipped the back of the Honda, driven by Christopher Martinez, which skidded into the other lane and was hit broadside by a pickup driven by Kevin Belstler of Santa Ynez. He and his passenger, Deborah Jenae of Solvang, suffered moderate to major injuries.

Martinez, 28, suffered severe head trauma and a punctured lung and was flown by helicopter to Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria, where he died the next day. Herrera’s injuries were minor, the California Highway Patrol said.

The first trial, in May last year, ended with jurors split 7-5 for conviction. The second ended Feb. 12 with jurors split 11-1 in favor of conviction.

If Herrera is convicted of the charge, she could face a year a jail and a $1,000 fine.

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