Police: Santa Rosa man legally drunk in fatal Rohnert Park crash

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.

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