For release on June 18, 2013
Angela Bernhard, Deputy District Attorney
MAN WITH TWO DUIS CONVICTED OF KILLING CHILD IN DRUNKEN CRASH
A Gilroy truck mechanic was found guilty of second-degree murder this week, three years after he drunkenly plowed his speeding pickup into a disabled truck off the side of the highway, killing a four-year-old boy napping in the backseat.
James Francis Lee, whose blood alcohol was more than twice the legal limit when he smashed into the truck in front of the boy’s horrified family, had been convicted of driving under the influence twice before.
Lee, 46, will be sentenced on September 23 in Department 49 by the Hon. Deborah Ryan. He faces a maximum sentence of 21-years-to-life in prison.
“This wasn’t an accident, this was a crime,” prosecutor Angela Bernhard said. “Here is a defendant who has more knowledge than the average person regarding the dangers of drinking and driving. When he made a choice to drink and drive again, killing Jose - the law calls that murder.”
It was just before 6 p.m. on July 11, 2010, as Lee drove his truck on Highway 85, swerving wildly across all lanes of traffic and back again – almost hitting medians and sound walls. He drove onto US 101, southbound near Bailey Avenue, where a Gilroy family was waiting for help after their Chevy truck broke down, leaving them stranded in a turn-out. Jose’s mother and 12-year-old sister were standing nearby on the shoulder. Jose’s father was checking on his son when Lee’s truck crashed into the back of their vehicle. The force of the accident crumpled the bed and drove a mounted toolbox into the child’s head mortally wounding him. His father, Jesus Diaz, was thrown free of the collision and severely injured. The damage to the Diaz truck was so severe that one of the first officers to arrive thought the destroyed vehicle was a hatchback.
Lee, who was only slightly injured, had a blood alcohol level of .17 at the scene. He told officers he had been drinking beer.
During the week-long trial, Lee argued that he was not responsible for the child’s death because the father had not installed the tool box correctly and the child should have been in a car seat. After a day of deliberations, the jury rejected that assertion and convicted him of murder, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and other drunken driving felonies.