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121717 hwy 154 fatal

Rigoberto Gracida, of Santa Maria, was arrested on suspicion of DUI following a three-vehicle crash on the S-curve of Highway 154 east of Zaca Station Road that left two people dead early Dec. 17, 2017.

The Santa Maria man who was arrested on suspicion of DUI following a three-vehicle crash that killed two people and injured four late Saturday night on Highway 154 in Buellton, pleaded not guilty Tuesday at Santa Maria Superior Court. 

Rigoberto Gracida, also known as Rigoberto Gracida Paucene, according to earlier reports filed by the California Highway Patrol, is charged by the Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office with felony DUI causing injury and driving under the influence with over 0.08 blood alcohol content causing injury.

Gracida, 30, is also charged with misdemeanor driving on a suspended license, and a vehicle infraction of unlawful turning movement. 

He faces the special allegations of causing great bodily injury to four victims --Antonia Bautista Santiago, Aurelio Salvador Zaragoza, Hamilton Diaz Bonilla and Rocael Antonio Pedro.

The complaint charging sheet alleges that Gracida had a blood alcohol content level of 0.1. 

The crash occurred on the S-curve of Highway 154 east of Zaca Station Road, according to County Fire officials, who said that extensive extrication efforts were required to get the victims out of the vehicles.

Just before 2 a.m. Sunday, Gracida was traveling eastbound on Highway 154 at an unknown rate of speed, according to the CHP.

Gracida had reportedly allowed his vehicle to cross into oncoming westbound traffic, before crashing into a 2001 Honda Accord traveling westbound. The driver of the Accord was identified as Bonilla, 35, of Santa Maria. Inside his car were passengers Pedro, 32, of Santa Maria and Ricio Arroyo Cortes, 29, also from Santa Maria.

Pedro was originally identified as Antonio Rafael. The CHP confirmed Tuesday afternoon his correct identification. 

CHP said the impact caused the Nissan to roll onto its roof, and it was struck behind by an oncoming 2000 Dodge minivan driven by Zaragoza, 43, of Santa Maria. Inside his minivan was Santiago, 50, of Santa Maria.

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Bonilla and Santiago were pronounced dead at the scene. Zaragoza sustained major injuries and Rafael sustained moderate injuries. All were transported via AMR ambulance to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, according to the Santa Barbara County Fire department. Gracida sustained minor injuries and was arrested on suspicion of DUI. 

On Tuesday afternoon during his brief hearing, Deputy Public Defender Adrienne Harbottle represented Gracida and entered not guilty pleas on his behalf. Judge Patricia Kelly set bail at $300,000 for Gracida. 

If Gracida posts bail, he must wear a SCRAM (ankle monitor bracelet) within 24 hours upon his release, the judge ruled. As part of his bail conditions, he is barred from drinking alcohol, being in any places where alcohol is a chief item of sale, and cannot drive without a valid driver's license or insurance. 

Gracida will appear in Department 6 on Thursday for his next court date. A preliminary hearing date has been tentatively scheduled for Jan. 4 in that same courtroom. 

Gina Kim covers crime and courts for Santa Maria Times. Follow her on Twitter @gina_k210


Courts/Public Safety Reporter