The Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office plans to retry a woman for murder in connection with a road rage crash that killed a Santa Rosa man last year. A jury convicted Heather Howell, 29, of Santa Rosa, Thursday of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and reckless driving causing bodily injury but deadlocked 9-3 on a second-degree murder count. Deputy District Attorney Anne Masterson told Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Robert LaForge that District Attorney Jill Ravitch has decided to retry Howell.
“Justice will be served by pursuing the 187 (murder) count. That’s what this case is,” Masterson said after this morning’s brief hearing. Howell waived time to be sentenced for the reckless driving and vehicular manslaughter counts. She faces a maximum of 10 years for the manslaughter. The sentence for the reckless driving charge will likely run concurrent to the manslaughter charge, Masterson said.
Defense attorney Steve Spiegelman told the judge he will request public funding to represent Howell at the retrial. The prosecution alleges Howell had alcohol, cocaine and marijuana in her system when, after an argument, she recklessly pursued her boyfriend Anthony Kraus’ motorcycle in her 2001 Acura on Hall Road in unincorporated Sonoma County west of Santa Rosa on July 14, 2012.
Masterson argued Howell’s Acura sideswiped a Lexus and then struck the rear of a 1969 Triumph convertible. The Triumph spun around, rolled and caught fire, trapping driver Jessie Garcia, 56, of Santa Rosa, Masterson said. Garcia died at the scene. Howell, who has a 2006 conviction for DUI, had a blood-alcohol level of 0.11 percent after the crash, according to the prosecution. Spiegelman said Garcia also had a prior DUI conviction and his blood-alcohol level was 0.05 percent after the crash. “We know there was contact between Heather’s car and the Triumph.
We don’t know if the Triumph hit Heather’s Acura, if the Lexus knocked the Triumph out of control or if the Triumph got in the mix (of the pursuit),” Spiegelman said. An elderly couple was traveling in a Lexus on Hall Road at the time of the crash. Spiegelman said they testified that they were confused about how the crash happened. Spiegelman said at the time of the crash there was a recall in effect regarding the gas cap of the Triumph. Gas was leaking from the Triumph, and one witness said it was on fire before it crashed, he said. “Nobody really knows what happened,” Spiegelman said.
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