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People v. Cook

California Court of Appeal, Fourth District, Second Division

December 12, 2013

The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
Victoria Samantha COOK, Defendant and Appellant.

[REVIEW GRANTED BY CAL. SUPREME COURT]

[CERTIFIED FOR PARTIAL PUBLICATION.[*]]

APPEAL from the Superior Court of Riverside County. Dennis A. McConaghy, Judge. Affirmed in part, reversed in part. (Super. Ct. No. SWF10000834)

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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COUNSEL

[165 Cal.Rptr.3d 450] Thomas K. Macomber, Riverside, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.

Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General, Dane R. Gillette, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Julie L. Garland, Assistant Attorney General, Steven T. Oetting and Tami Falkenstein Hennick, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

OPINION

MILLER J.

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Defendant and appellant Victoria Samantha Cook pled guilty to the misdemeanor offense of driving with a suspended license (count 4— Vehicle Code, § 14601.1, subd. (a)). Thereafter, a jury convicted defendant of three counts of gross vehicular manslaughter for the respective deaths of Zaria Williams (Williams), Christine Giambra (Giambra), and Cedric Page (Page) (counts 1-3— Pen. Code, § 192, subd. (c)(1)).[1] The jury additionally found true three allegations attached to the count 1 offense that defendant had personally inflicted great bodily injury upon Giambra, Page, and Robert Valentine (Valentine) (Pen.Code, § 12022.7, subd. (a)). The court sentenced defendant to an aggregate term of incarceration of nine years, eight months, striking punishment for the enhancements as to Giambra and Page, but imposing a three-year consecutive term for the enhancement as to Valentine.

On appeal, defendant makes four assignments of error: (1) the court erred in excluding evidence of the victims' propensity for reckless driving as a potential defense of legal necessity; (2) the People committed prejudicial prosecutorial misconduct in ostensibly alluding to the pristine driving records of the victims and witnesses; (3) the section 12022.7[2] enhancements must be reversed because the statute explicitly forbids its application to cases of manslaughter; and (4) the trial court abused its discretion by denying defendant's request for release of juror information. We reverse the true findings on the section 12022.7, subdivision (a) enhancements with respect to victims Giambra and Page. In all other respects, we affirm the judgment.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Austin Welch (Welch) testified that on June 2, 2009, he was driving home eastbound on Highway 74 from work. He witnessed the driver of a charcoal gray Ford Fusion, later determined to be defendant, driving erratically. Traffic slowed in the right lane, in which defendant was traveling; defendant then pulled out abruptly into the fast lane in front of a silver Audi whose driver, later identified as victim Page, was forced to slam on his brakes.

Defendant immediately sped up as Page slowed to allow space between the two cars. Defendant later changed back into the slow lane. As traffic slowed in that lane, defendant once again changed lanes back into the fast lane without signaling, cutting Page off and forcing Page to slam on his brakes and swerve to avoid hitting [165 Cal.Rptr.3d 451] defendant's car. Defendant was driving " very fast" and " swerved pretty hard."

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Both drivers then sped up quickly. Page came so close to the rear of defendant's vehicle that Welch could not see a gap between them. Without signaling, defendant once again changed lanes into the slow lane in front of Welch's vehicle, where there was insufficient space to fit; defendant's vehicle collided with Welch's. This caused defendant's vehicle to fishtail, dart across lanes, and eventually come to rest in a field on the side of the road.

Welch thereafter witnessed a Mitsubishi SUV launch into the air. Afterward, Welch was able to see that Page's Audi and the Mitsubishi had been involved in a head-on collision. A white Nissan Altima (driven by Rivera) then rear-ended the Mitsubishi. Rivera suffered a dislocated elbow. The driver of the Mitsubishi, Valentine, was " screaming for his life" and had blood coming out of his mouth. Deputy Coroner Kathleen Cohen testified Page, Giambra, and Williams were already dead when she arrived at the scene of the accident.

CHP Officer David Kling was dispatched to investigate the collision. He interviewed a number of the drivers and witnesses to the accident. He requested help from the Multi Disciplinary Accident Investigation Team (MAIT), which consists of " specialized officers who do accident reconstruction and very specialized investigation into complex accidents." Together they gathered evidence from the scene, and surveillance video from a nearby convenience store and a bus traveling nearby at the time of the accident.

Officer Kling and MAIT Officer Scott Parent concluded defendant was the primary cause of the collision because of her unsafe lane change. They determined the sequence of events to have begun when defendant's vehicle collided with Welch's, causing defendant to swerve left, colliding with Page's vehicle and forcing it into oncoming traffic. Page's vehicle thereafter collided head-on with Valentine's. Rivera braked to avoid hitting Valentine's vehicle; however, Rivera grazed Valentine's Mitsubishi and hit Page's Audi.

The People played the video recordings from the convenience store and bus during trial. Juanita Solt (Solt), who was traveling eastbound on Highway 74 at the time of the accident, testified she saw a black Acura driving aggressively, tailgating vehicles, honking its horn, swerving in and out of lanes, and eventually traveling into defendant's lane, forcing defendant into the slow lane and Page's vehicle. Officer Kling testified he had determined that Solt had not actually witnessed the accident because the video showed her coming through the scene 13 to 14 seconds after the vehicles ...


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