Closing arguments began today in the San Jose trial of a Gilroy woman charged with killing her husband and daughter in a drunken-driving accident on state Highway 85 near Los Gatos in 2012. Stacey Lonnberg, 52, is charged with two counts of vehicular murder and one count of child endangerment in the deaths of Frederic Lonnberg, 57, and Tiffiny Gillette, 26, while she drove north on the highway on Jan. 14, 2012. Lonnberg got behind the wheel of a 2002 Toyota Tacoma with her husband, daughter and 1-year-old grandson after consuming seven to eight drinks of vodka and the pain medication oxycodone, according to the Deputy District Attorney Matt Braker.
While driving on the highway close to Winchester Boulevard on a car trip to Belmont, Lonnberg was driving more than 85 miles per hour, made an unsafe lane change and hit a pickup truck, Braker said. The force of the impact sent the Toyota out of control and it flipped over multiple times before coming to rest in the center of the roadway, Braker said. Gillette, in the rear left passenger seat without wearing a safety belt, was ejected onto the roadway.
Frederic Lonnberg, who wore his seat belt in the front passenger seat, died later at a hospital from being partially ejected during the rollovers. Both Stacey Lonnberg and her grandson survived without serious injuries. Braker told jurors this morning that the defendant committed murder with implied malice aforethought because she knew she would be driving while impaired by alcohol and drugs and disregarded the threat she posed to the lives of her family members and others. Lonnberg had a prior arrest on suspicion of drunken driving, took a 12-hour class in the effects of driving drunk, and had received warnings from medical professionals about the dangers, Braker said.
“This case is about a defendant being aware of a risk and going ahead and doing it anyway,” Braker said. “It’s way down the road as far as egregious conduct. Two people died.” Braker recalled for jurors the testimony from an expert witness for the prosecution who estimated that prior to the accident, Lonnberg’s blood alcohol level was about .20, more than twice the legal limit, Braker said. “She’s at .20, seven to eight drinks in the course of an hour is what it’s going to take,” Braker said, “That’s a lot of booze in your system.” Braker also asked the jury to find Lonnberg guilty of endangering the life of her grandson, who was strapped into a car seat assigned for older children that was “not legal or sufficient,” while driving impaired. After taking the witness stand on Monday, Lonnberg, under questioning by defense lawyer Javier Rios, admitted to being drunk at the time of the deadly crash and to have driven drunk “thousands of times” before without getting into an accident.
In his closing statement today, Rios said that there was no doubt that Lonnberg was drunk during the accident, but that the prosecution did not provide evidence beyond a reasonable doubt proving she actually intended to kill her husband and daughter. For her to want kill them that day “her heart would have to be so cold, depraved, malignant,” but Lonnberg loved her husband and daughter, Rios said. “Any murder charge is for the worst of the worst,” Rios said. “That’s not what we have here.” Rios described Lonnberg as an alcoholic who grew up with alcoholic parents and said while Lonnberg was a girl, her mother routinely drove her to and from bars while drunk and never got into an accident, which influenced Lonnberg’s conduct as an adult.
Lonnberg admitted during her own testimony to driving while intoxicated that day but that she felt fine and fit to drive prior to the accident, Rios said. “Why was Stacey 100 percent sure? She had done it thousands of times,” Rios said. “It’s safe for me to drive DUI. That’s what she was thinking.” “She’s not thinking this is dangerous to human life,” Rio said. “It does not enter into her brain.” Rios said that Lonnberg did not realize that she had taken a rapid-release oxycodone pill — not her usual medication — provided by Tiffiny instead of the slow-release pills she was used to taking before driving.
The fast-acting oxycodone can cause abrupt drowsiness, Rio said. During the road trip, Lonnberg’s husband was listening to the radio, her daughter was in the backseat texting and Lonnberg was talking about music with her grandson “and all of a sudden this sleepiness hit her like a ton of bricks,” Rios said. “And it’s too late. She goes to sleep.” It then took “only a few moments for the tragedy to happen the way it did,” Rios said. Rios said that the prosecution had failed the prove his client committed murder and he urged the jury set aside any prejudices they may have about Lonnberg and “just look at the cold facts.” Judge Ron Del Pozzo said he would complete instructions to the jury this afternoon so that the panel could begin deliberations.
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