A 23-year-old Santa Rosa man charged with murder in a Rohnert Park car crash that killed his passenger had nearly three times the legal limit of alcohol in his system, a police report said.

Rafael Prieto-Gonzalez had a .23 percent blood-alcohol content when he was tested at a hospital after the Feb. 28 crash that killed Abel Acosta, 44 of St. Helena, the report said.

Prieto-Gonzalez, who had to be restrained by Rohnert Park police, according to the department's report, was described as belligerent and spitting on officers at the time of his arrest.

He was on probation for a previous drunken driving conviction at the time. Prosecutors charged him with murder under a theory that he was aware of the inherent danger of driving while intoxicated but did it anyway.

He also faces a count of reckless driving, hit and run and gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.

He didn't enter a plea during a court appearance Monday. He is set to return to court March 24.

He is the first person in Sonoma County to be charged with murder in a fatal crash since Heather Howell, also of Santa Rosa, who was charged with murder in a 2012 road-rage death that killed a 56-year-old man.

Like Prieto-Gonzalez, Howell was charged under implied-malice laws because she had a previous drunken-driving conviction.

But in Howell's case the prosecutors' argument wasn't persuasive to jurors, who convicted her of reckless driving and manslaughter but deadlocked on second-degree murder, 9-3 in favor of conviction. A new trial on just the murder charge is pending.

Second-degree murder carries a 15 years-to-life sentence.

The circumstances of the two crashes differ greatly. Howell was accused of rear-ending a sports car driven by Jesse Garcia, also of Santa Rosa, as she was chasing her motorcycle-riding boyfriend along city streets. The car flipped and burned after she attempted a dangerous right-shoulder pass. Toxicology reports showed she had been drinking.

Police said Prieto-Gonzalez was driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol in Rohnert Park when he lost control of his car on Commerce Boulevard and crashed broadside into a tree.

Two witnesses in another car stopped to help but the driver walked away into a nearby neighborhood, police said. The injured and bloodied man was later found and arrested.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com