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In Re J. M., A Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. v. J. M

October 23, 2012

IN RE J. M., A PERSON COMING UNDER THE JUVENILE COURT LAW. THE PEOPLE, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
J. M., DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



(Super. Ct. No. JV130790)

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

In re J.M.

CA3

NOT TO BE PUBLISHED

California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.

Juveniles who become enmeshed in the juvenile justice system are often not strangers to crime. But this is not a typical juvenile case. Here we are required to review the conduct of a young man who has led a largely exemplary life but, while driving a car purchased with his part-time job earnings, made a tragic mistake that led to the deaths of an elderly couple in a head-on collision.

The question is whether the trial court abused its discretion in denying the minor's motion to dismiss the petition where, as here, he has an unblemished record and is not in need of the rehabilitative services provided by the juvenile justice system.

The minor was charged with two counts of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter. The trial court sustained the petition and placed the minor on probation with various conditions, including an order to attend community college. The Attorney General agrees with the minor that this condition should be stricken, although the minor is presently enrolled in and committed to completing an EMT (emergency medical technician) program. On the record before us we cannot say the court abused its discretion. We strike the education condition and otherwise affirm the judgment.

FACTS

At 15, J. lived with his parents and three siblings. His biography, at least as far as it is represented in the record, reads like a script for the model teenager. He was a good student, worked at Safeway, had lots of friends, went to church, respected his parents, and had no record of disciplinary problems at school or with law enforcement. He took a driver's training program, obtained his learner's permit, practiced driving under a variety of conditions with adult drivers, and bought a used car before his 16th birthday.

In May 2009 J.'s father helped him find a 1998 Ford Contour at a small mom-and-pop dealership. They did not notice until after they had bought the car that the driver's seat was bolted onto the floor with a piece of wood. Within a short time the power windows malfunctioned. They replaced fuses three or four times before the windows would operate properly. A gear in the steering column had been replaced with a remanufactured part. J. turned 16 about seven months before obtaining his driver's license. On one occasion the Contour "shut off on its own." There was no apparent reason that the car died.

Less than a month later, what every parent of a teenaged driver prays will never happen, happened. On June 5, J. spent the night at his aunt's house. He did not consume alcohol or drugs. He went to bed between 3:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m. on June 6, but he did not get up until 11:00 or 11:30 a.m. He felt alert and rested. He ate breakfast and then drove to another cousin's house. He did not experience any problems with the car. As he was traveling northbound on South Watt Avenue about 3:00 p.m. en route back to his aunt's house to get ready for work, he testified he heard a loud popping sound, the steering wheel locked, and the car drifted into the southbound lane of traffic. He tried desperately to "jerk" the steering wheel to the right and hit the brakes, but he was unable to avoid a head-on collision with Mr. and Mrs. Thurlow. Although he did not believe he lost consciousness, the first thing he remembered after the collision was what felt like "waking up": there was blood in his mouth, the windows of his car were shattered, and his airbag had deployed. He called his mother on his cell phone, and as his parents drove to the hospital, they prayed that no one would die.

The Thurlows, who were in their early 80's, had moved to California from England to be closer to their adult daughters and their three grandchildren. According to one of their daughters, they were extremely kind and generous people, and they helped their children financially, around the house, and with regularly driving one granddaughter to and from college. They both died as a result of the injuries they sustained in the accident.

J. was seriously injured, but he survived. In considerable pain, lying on a stretcher in the ambulance, J. told an interrogating California Highway Patrol officer that the steering wheel had locked and he veered into the oncoming lane despite jerking his steering wheel to the right. He gave the same account when the officer interviewed him again several days later at his home. He does not recall telling a ...


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