The California Supreme Court refused this week to review the case against a former Lancaster resident who was on probation for alcohol-related reckless driving at the time of a DUI crash in Palmdale that killed a motorist who was stopped at a red light.
Jeffrey Cole Brooks was convicted of second-degree murder for the Sept. 24, 2016 crash at Avenue S and Sierra Highway that killed Daniel Eduardo Orellana, who was on his way home from work.
In a May 30 ruling, a three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected the defense’s contention that jurors should not have seen two photographs of the 21-year-old victim at the crash scene and during an autopsy in light of videos the panel was shown of the crash scene and the victim’s vehicle in flames.
In their ruling, the appellate court justices found that the photographs were “unpleasant but not unduly gruesome for a murder case of this kind.”
“Further, the evidence of defendant’s extreme intoxication, his acknowledgment he was drunk and should not have been driving, his prior conviction for alcohol-related reckless driving, his court-ordered education, his friend’s warning and attempt to prevent him from driving, and the severity of the fatal collision forcefully established his guilt.
“There is no chance the two photographs at issue inflamed the jury and swayed it to convict,” the panel ruled.
The justices also turned down the defense’s claim that jurors should have heard about Brooks’ statement to a sheriff’s deputy about 25 minutes after arriving at a hospital that he “didn’t remember what he was doing” and that he “intended to make a phone call” to his mother, noting again that there was “no chance” of a more favorable verdict, if jurors had heard that evidence.
The impact of the crash caused Orellana’s car to burst into flames and spin across the intersection, according to Deputy District Attorney Daniel Rochmes.
Brooks—who had taken a “party bus” to Los Angeles—had been warned by a friend that he was too drunk to drive, but got into the driver’s seat of his 2005 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and left the Park and Ride lot on Avenue S in Palmdale, Rochmes said.
Authorities determined that he was driving no less than 88.9 miles per hour with a blood-alcohol level of at least 0.27 percent—more than three times the legal limit.
He was on probation in San Diego County for alcohol-related reckless driving at the time of the crash and had attended court-ordered DUI education classes that warned about the dangers of driving under the influence, Rochmes said.
Brooks was sentenced last August to 15 years to life in state prison.