Four face murder charge in fatal wreck involving Lake County deputy
A grand jury has indicted four Lake County residents on murder charges even though they were not at the scene of the victim's death, in a head-on vehicle collision with a Lake County sheriff's deputy.
The defendants triggered the crash when they conducted and fled a home invasion robbery on Oct. 3 near Lower Lake, said Lake County Deputy District Attorney Sharon Lerman-Hubert.
"If it weren't for them and their actions on that day, the victim would still be alive," she said of the defendants.
Gabriela Rivas Garcia, 26, of Clearlake, was killed in the head-on crash with Lake County Dep. Scott Lewis, who was responding to the home invasion, Lerman-Hubert said.
Santa Rosa defense attorney Evan Zelig said it's a stretch to blame the fatal crash on his client, Jesse Gilbert Moncivaiz, 29, and the other three defendants.
He plans to file a motion to dismiss the indictment against his client.
The indictments were issued Friday against Clearlake residents Moncivaiz, Robert Conaster, 38, Angelita Jeanette Raffa, 28, and Lauren Astor Faumuina, 20, of Hidden Valley Lake. The four are being held in the Lake County jail on $1 million bail each.
The grand jury additionally indicted Conaster for unlawful discharge of a weapon. The defendants earlier were charged with crimes that include robbery, burglary and conspiracy.
No charges have been filed at this time against Lewis, who was seriously injured in the crash, Lerman-Hubert said.
The CHP has not yet concluded its investigation into the accident, she said. When it's completed, the District Attorney's Office will review their findings and submit charges if warranted.
Meanwhile, Garcia's family has filed a claim against the county in connection with her death.
On the morning of the incident, a caller reported that two men and two women had entered a home in the 9800 block of Rocky Creek Road and beaten, robbed and shot at a man inside before fleeing, authorities said.
Marijuana eradication officers had raided the home a few weeks earlier, seizing 950 plants, as well as some methamphetamine. The items stolen by the alleged robbers included about $200, a crossbow and a console, Lerman-Hubert said.
The District Attorney's Office sought the murder charges against the defendants under the so-called "felony murder" rule.
The law allows people charged with certain felonies, including robbery, to be charged with murder when death is a by-product of their crime. The death need not be intentional, Lerman-Hubert said.
This case warrants the additional charge, she said.
"We cannot tolerate the home invasion robberies that have plagued this county," Lerman-Hubert said.
Zelig, the Santa Rosa defense attorney, said it's inappropriate in this case to charge his client and alleged co-conspirators with murder.
He noted the officer involved in the crash was not in direct pursuit of the suspects.
The fatal crash was "so far removed" from the alleged actions of the suspects "I don't believe it would have made it past the preliminary hearing," Zelig said.
Rocky Creek Road, site of the reported home burglary, is about 9 miles east of Lower Lake. The fatal crash involving Garcia and Lewis, the deputy, occurred on Highway 29 about 5 miles west of Lower Lake.
During preliminary hearings, attorneys for defendants are allowed to respond to the allegations. Grand jury hearings, on the other hand, are secret and exclude the defense.
The four defendants were held to answer on the robbery related charges following a preliminary hearing in mid-December.
The defendants are scheduled to be arraigned on the murder charges in Lake County Superior Court on Feb. 25.
You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or firstname.lastname@example.org