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Trial of driver accused in fatal Hall Road crash begins in Santa Rosa

  • Heather Anne Howell appears in Sonoma County Superior Court, Tuesday July 17, 2012. (Kent Porter / PD file photo)

A Santa Rosa woman charged with second-degree murder had alcohol and drugs in her blood when she tried to run down her boyfriend on his motorcycle and crashed her vehicle into another car, killing its driver, a prosecutor told a jury Monday.

Jurors heard opening statements and saw pictures of a car engulfed in flames on the first day of the trial of Heather Howell, 29, who is charged in the July 14, 2012, crash that killed Jesse Garcia, 56, also of Santa Rosa.

“At the end of the trial, you will see that Heather Howell was under the influence,” prosecutor Anne Masterson told the jury of seven men and seven women. “You will see that she in fact caused this death and she is guilty of murdering Mr. Garcia.”

In his opening statement, Howell's lawyer, Steve Spiegelman, suggested Garcia's own reckless driving was to blame for the crash on Hall Road west of Santa Rosa.

Howell allegedly drove in pursuit of her boyfriend, Tony Kraus, following an argument at her Hartman Lane home, Masterson said. Driving a black 2001 Acura, she sideswiped a red Lexus and ran into the back of Garcia's Triumph TR6 sportscar. The force of the impact caused Garcia's vehicle to flip before coming to rest on its top, trapping Garcia and bursting into flames.

“The only time an accident takes place is when a Triumph TR6 gets into the mix,” Spiegelman said, adding that witnesses saw Garcia's sports car closely following Kraus' Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

An analysis of Howell's blood, taken at the scene, showed that she had a blood alcohol content of 0.11, above the 0.08 legal limit, Masterson said. Howell also tested positive for cocaine and marijuana, she said.

Prosecution witness Jereme Robinson, an EMT who evaluated Howell at the scene, told the court that she admitted to drinking a cocktail before driving, and to taking cocaine three days before the accident. She acted worried as Robinson's partner drew her blood, he said.

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