H-SANTA BARBARA

Jul 12, 2011 11:35 PM by Ariel Wesler

Big rig driver involved in fatal crash last August changes plea

The driver who crashed his big rig into a Santa Barbara home killing a family of three last August will not stand trial. Joaquin Morales, 62, lost his brakes coming off Highway 154 and crashed into a home, just south of State Street, killing a family of three. Investigators had said Morales showed gross negligence because of the poor condition of his truck and not driving safely.

It's been almost a year since a gravel truck came barreling down Highway 154, claiming the lives of three people, including an 8-year-old boy. The devastating crash rocked the Santa Barbara community, but was it gross negligence? After two full days of preliminary hearings, the judge heard closing arguments.

"The defendant took known and calculated risks from the moment he left the tri-county yard," said Prosecutor Stephen Wagner, who specializes in vehicular homicide cases.

"They know that they have no ability to prove that he violated a law," said Defense Attorney Mark Pachowicz, referring to prosecutors.

Both sides struck a deal. Morales plead "No Contest" after the District Attorney agreed to reduced the three counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence from felonies to misdemeanors.

"It is the People's way of actually acknowledging ha the defendant in some instances may have not been as much at fault," Wagner said.

Morales now faces up to three years in county jail, but won't go to prison.

"There's no winners or losers. You've lost three lives. Mr Morales now is going to have misdemeanor convictions. He's going to have to suffer the consequences of probation and he'll probably never drive a truck again," said Senior District Attorney Arnis Tolks.

"This is a very tragic situation but it's not one that he wanted to have happen. It's an accident and unfortunately, the District Attorney has tried to characterize it as criminal," Pachowicz said.

With the conviction, Morales will have his license suspended.

Sentencing is set for September 25 at 8:30 a.m. at the Superior Courthouse in Santa Barbara.

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