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Lawyer: Victim's negligence, intoxication to blame for fatal Santa Rosa crash

The Santa Rosa woman charged with second-degree murder in a fiery crash prosecutors said happened while she was chasing her motorcyclist boyfriend pointed the finger at the victim Tuesday, claiming his negligence and intoxication were to blame.

An attorney for Heather Howell, 29, said in court papers that Jesse Garcia, 56, also of Santa Rosa, had already lost control of his Triumph convertible when Howell came along and hit or was hit by the car.

Howell's lawyer, Steve Spiegelman, argued that excluding evidence in the upcoming trial of Garcia's blood-alcohol level, determined through autopsy to be 0.05 percent, would undercut a defense that his reckless driving was the cause.

Fatal Hall Road Crash

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"The deceased's alcohol intake just before the accident undoubtedly factored into his driving and thus into the direct causation of this accident," Siegelman said in the court papers.

Howell's attorney has also lodged a separate motion with Judge Robert LaForge to suppress her alcohol level at trial on grounds that she didn't consent to a blood test. A state Department of Justice analysis found her at 0.11 percent — well above the 0.08 percent legal limit.

Spiegelman is also seeking to bar any mention to a jury that Howell was convicted of drunken driving in 2006, in part because he said she lacked professional legal representation.

Prosecutors oppose the exclusion of Howell's alcohol level and conviction history. The second-degree murder charge relies on one of two theories, including that she had a previous drunken-driving conviction and was aware of the dangers of driving under the influence.

Judge LaForge is expected to rule on the two motions and others later this month. Both sides are expected to begin picking a jury July 29 and testimony could begin in early August.

Prosecutors said the July 14, 2012, crash happened after Howell and her boyfriend, Tony Kraus, got into an argument over his infidelity at her Hartman Lane home. She had at least one drink earlier in the day at a bar called The Zoo.

Howell told deputies Kraus left suddenly on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle and she followed him in her black 2001 Acura, wanting to continue the fight. She left so quickly she didn't bother to put on her shoes, prosecutors said in court papers.


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