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The People v. Richard Tom

March 19, 2012


(San Mateo County Super. Ct. No. SC064912) (San Mateo County Super. Ct. No. SC064912) Trial Court: San Mateo County Superior Court Trial Judge: Hon. H. James Ellis

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jenkins, J.


On the evening of February 19, 2007, defendant Richard Tom, while driving at a high rate of speed, broadsided a vehicle driven by Loraine Wong as she was making a left turn from Santa Clara Avenue onto Woodside Road in Redwood City. Wong's two daughters, Kendall (aged 10) and Sydney (8) were riding in the rear passenger seat. Sydney was strapped into a booster seat on the side of the vehicle that bore the brunt of the impact. Sydney died as a result of injuries sustained in the collision. Kendall survived, but sustained serious injuries.

As a result of the collision, defendant was charged with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, driving under the influence causing harm to another, and driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent or higher causing harm to another. Defendant pleaded not guilty to all charges. After a lengthy trial, the jury acquitted defendant on all alcohol-related charges but returned a verdict of guilty on the lesser included offense of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence.

In case number A124765, defendant appeals the judgment imposed following his jury-trial conviction. Defendant asserts multiple grounds for reversal of the judgment, including deprivation of constitutional rights, prosecutorial misconduct, improper admission of opinion testimony, prosecutorial failure to disclose exculpatory evidence, ineffective assistance of counsel, and sentencing error.

In case number A130151, defendant collaterally attacks the judgment by way of a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, asserting as prejudicial error many of the same issues raised in his direct appeal. On the court's own motion, we consolidated the two cases and deferred our determination of whether to issue an order to show cause on defendant's writ petition until we considered the issues raised on appeal.

Having considered the contentions raised by defendant on appeal, we conclude that the prosecution violated defendant's Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination by introducing evidence at trial of his post-arrest, pre-Miranda silence as proof of guilt. We also conclude that defendant was prejudiced by this violation of his Fifth Amendment right. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment and remand the matter for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. We dismiss the writ petition as moot given our resolution of defendant's Fifth Amendment claim.


In an amended felony information filed on October 7, 2008, the San Mateo County District Attorney (DA) charged defendant with vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence while intoxicated (unlawful killing of Sidney Ng as a proximate result of violations of Vehicle Code sections 22350 (basic speed law) and 23103 (reckless driving), in violation of Penal Code section 191.5, subdivision (a) (count 1); driving under the influence and causing injury to another, in violation of Vehicle Code section 23153, subdivision (a) (count 2); and driving a vehicle with an blood alcohol level of 0.08% or more and causing injury to another, in violation of Vehicle Code section 23153, subdivision (b) (count 3).

The DA alleged that the offense charged in count 1 was a serious felony in which the defendant inflicted great bodily injury on someone other than an accomplice, pursuant to Penal Code section 1192.7, subdivision (c)(8). The DA also alleged with respect to count 1 that in the commission of the offense the defendant personally inflicted great bodily injury upon Loraine Wong and Kendall Ng, within the meaning of Penal Code section 12022.7, subdivision (a).

The evidentiary phase of defendant's jury trial began on October 16, 2008. The jury delivered its verdicts on October 29, 2008. The jury found defendant not guilty of count 1 and acquitted him of the lesser included offense of committing vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated with ordinary negligence. However, the jury found defendant guilty on the lesser included offense of count one, vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, in violation of Penal Code section 192, subdivision (c)(1). The jury also found true the allegation that defendant personally inflicted great bodily injury on Kendall Ng but found the same allegation had not been proven with respect to Loraine Wong. Furthermore, the jury acquitted defendant of the charges in counts 2 and 3 and also acquitted him of lesser included misdemeanor offenses related to those counts.

On April 22, 2009, defendant filed a motion for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence. The trial court denied the motion for a new trial and proceeded to sentencing on April 24, 2009. The trial court sentenced defendant to the middle term of four years on his conviction for vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and imposed an additional term of three years for the personal infliction of great bodily injury upon Kendall Ng, for an aggregate term of seven years in state prison. In addition, the court ordered that defendant pay restitution in the amount of $147,860.82. Defendant filed a timely notice of appeal on April 27, 2009.


At trial, the prosecution presented testimony of several police officers who described the scene at the collision, as well as the ensuing investigation culminating in defendant's arrest on alcohol-related charges. Other prosecution witnesses included Loraine Wong and Peter Gamino, a retired police officer and friend of defendant. Gamino was with defendant during the evening the accident occurred and was driving another vehicle behind defendant's vehicle when the collision occurred. There were no third-party witnesses to the collision and both sides presented expert testimony regarding the speed of appellant's vehicle at the time of the collision. We recount the pertinent trial testimony below and provide more detail where required to resolve the issues raised by defendant.*fn1

The Accident

On the evening of February 19, 2007, Loraine Wong decided to take her daughters, Sidney and Kendall Ng (ages eight and ten), to her sister's house in Sunnyvale for an overnight visit. Wong drove a Nissan Maxima automatic sedan to her sister's house that evening. Kendall was seated in the rear passenger side of the Maxima and Sidney sat in a booster seat next to Kendall. Before departing, Wong secured both girls in their seat belts and fastened her own seat belt.

Wong took Santa Clara Avenue to Woodside Road en route to her sister's home. Upon reaching the intersection of Woodside Road and Santa Clara, Wong planned to turn left and proceed on Woodside to the Southbound I-280 on ramp. Wong drove this route to her sister's home hundreds of times during the 15 years she lived on Santa Clara Avenue. Wong backed out of her driveway and called her sister on a hand-held cell phone to let her know "we were on our way to her house." The evening was chilly and clear. Wong spoke with her sister for a few minutes until she came to a full stop at the intersection of Santa Clara and Woodside Road. Wong recalled that her headlights and left-turn indicator were on at this time.

At this point, Wong was finished talking with her sister but had the cell phone in her hand. She began to inch forward, and looked to her left and observed the next cross-street, Alameda de las Pulgas. Wong then looked right and left again. Seeing no on-coming vehicles in either direction, she eased onto the accelerator pedal to execute a left turn. As she began to turn she "saw a big flash of light" and was struck by a vehicle on her left (driver's) side. Before she saw the flash of light, Wong heard no sound associated with a car braking, or a horn. She did not see headlights to her left and never saw defendant's car. Wong estimated she was going about 15 miles per hour at the time of the collision.

After the collision, Wong discovered that her daughters were injured. She yelled their names; Kendall responded, but Sidney didn't and never regained consciousness. Shortly, medical personnel arrived at the scene and extracted Wong and her daughters from the vehicle. Sidney and Kendall were transported to Stanford hospital. At the hospital, Wong was informed that Sidney had died.*fn2 Kendall sustained a cut to her forehead that required 30-40 stitches, a broken arm and an injury to her neck, and Wong suffered a broken rib and finger. Wong was released from the hospital on the night of the collision but Kendall remained in the hospital for a week.

Retired San Francisco Police Officer Peter Gamino testified that he had known defendant for about 20 years. Gamino was visiting California and staying at defendant's house on Sequoia Street near Woodside Road when the accident occurred. On the evening of the accident, Gamino and defendant had a couple of cocktails before dinner. They ate around 7:00 p.m. and finished about half an hour later. After dinner, they drove in defendant's Mercedes to defendant's son's house in order to pick up a Toyota Camry. After retrieving the Toyota, they left. Defendant drove his Mercedes and Gamino drove the Toyota. Gamino followed defendant onto Woodside Road. Gamino was about 200 yards behind defendant driving at about 40 miles per hour when he observed "dust and dirt [] all over the place," indicating that a collision had occurred. He made a U-turn and circled back to the collision scene to check on defendant. Defendant was groaning in pain, and said, "I didn't even see it."

Post-Accident Investigation Through Defendant's Arrest at the Police Station

Sergeant Alan Bailey and Officers Price and Felker of the Redwood City Police Department were among the first law enforcement officers to arrive at the scene of the collision. Sergeant Bailey arrived at 8:30 p.m. and took charge of coordinating the investigation. He observed that conditions were dry and it was a "pleasant evening." Bailey noted Santa Clara Avenue is a two-lane roadway, running east and west, which intersects Woodside Road, a four-lane roadway running north-south. Defendant's silver-colored Mercedes E320 was a considerable distance north of the Woodside Road/Santa Clara intersection. The Mercedes had sustained major front-end damage, the windshield was cracked and it had a couple of flat tires. Defendant was seated in the driver's seat of the Mercedes with the air bag deployed. Paramedics were attending to defendant and Officer Price was standing beside the vehicle.

Bailey parked near defendant's vehicle, and walked south through a "very large debris field." He noted that the other vehicle involved in the collision, a 1996 Nissan Maxima, had sustained "major, total damage." There was massive intrusion to the Nissan's left rear passenger door, the entire rear end of the vehicle was "destroyed," and the front windshield, the back window and the left rear passenger window were all shattered. The occupants of the Nissan had been removed from the vehicle by paramedics by the time Bailey arrived.

After examining the scene, Bailey was told by several officers that defendant was now seated in the Camry driven by Gamino. Bailey directed Officer Felker to place defendant in a patrol car. Bailey also told the officers to ask defendant if he would go to the station in order to make a statement and give a voluntary blood test. Defendant was placed in the patrol vehicle at 9:30 p.m., transported from the scene at 9:48 p.m. and arrived at the police station at 9:57 p.m. Bailey received no information at the scene as to whether defendant had shown any signs of intoxication.

Bailey arrived at the police station at about 10:00 p.m. He entered the police station and spoke with David Redding, the phlebotomist. Redding told Bailey that he could not draw a sample of defendant's blood because defendant was not formally under arrest. Redding advised Bailey that defendant would need to be transported to the hospital for a voluntary blood test. At approximately 10:30 p.m., Bailey went to speak with defendant about obtaining a blood sample. He found defendant in an interview room with Officer Price. Defendant asked Bailey to use the restroom. Bailey consented and escorted him to the restroom. During defendant's interaction with Bailey at the police station, defendant never asked Bailey about the occupants of the other vehicle.

Officer Price arrived at the accident scene and was directed by Officer Felker to contact defendant. Price found defendant sitting in the driver's seat of his silver Mercedes being attended by two paramedics. Price spoke briefly with defendant. About ten minutes later, Price observed defendant walking around. At this point, he (defendant) was accompanied by his girlfriend. Paramedics were trying to convince defendant to go to the hospital but defendant did not want to go. Defendant was limping slightly but otherwise "seemed okay."

Later, Price observed defendant and his girlfriend with Peter Gamino, all sitting in the Toyota Camry which was parked in the cordoned-off collision scene. Defendant was sitting in the front passenger seat, Peter Gamino was sitting in the driver's seat, and defendant's girlfriend was sitting in the rear seat of the car. While Price spoke with Gamino, he observed that defendant appeared calm. Defendant asked Price if he could walk home because "he lived only half-a-block away." Price told defendant that he had to stay at the scene because the investigation was still in progress. During this conversation, defendant did not ask about the condition of the occupants of the other vehicle.

Officer Felker testified that at approximately 9:48 p.m., he transported defendant from the accident scene to the police station to obtain a blood sample and a statement from defendant. Defendant was not handcuffed during the ride to the police station and his girlfriend was allowed to accompany him in the patrol car. Defendant appeared irritated that he had to go to the police station and asked Price why a blood sample could not be taken at the scene.

Officer Price arrived at the police station shortly after 10:00 p.m. and learned that a blood sample could not be obtained from defendant because he was not under arrest. Price spoke with defendant about going to the county hospital for a voluntary blood draw. Shortly after speaking with Price, defendant was escorted to the restroom by Sergeant Bailey. When he was finished in the restroom, Bailey escorted defendant and his girlfriend to an interview room. Officer Price and Gomez entered the interview room and observed defendant talking on his cell phone. While defendant conversed on the telephone, Officers Gomez and Price both detected an odor of alcohol from defendant. Price then had defendant take a series of Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs). Based on the results of the FSTs, Price concluded defendant was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the collision. Price informed defendant he was under arrest and took him ...

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