A 78-year-old Santa Rosa woman serving more than seven years in prison for a deadly 2016 pedestrian crash that killed a woman in the Oakmont retirement community and seriously injured her friend is seeking to reverse her punishment.
Lawyers for Gayle Gray argue a neurological disorder and not the small amounts of prescription drugs and alcohol found in her system, was the main cause of the crash that killed Jackie Simon, 85, and hurt Josephine Ross, then 91.
Judge Elliot Daum has ruled the attorneys have raised a significant question about what happened and ordered prosecutors to show a reason why the convictions should not be set aside.
“She has an organic brain disease that has been objectively verified by a qualified neurologist and psychiatrist,” her lawyer, Joe Stogner, said Thursday. “It compromises her ability to perform activities involving divided attention.”
The District Attorney’s Office is opposing the legal challenge. A spokesman said Thursday a written response has been filed.
The crash occurred Jan. 20, 2016 outside Oakmont Village Market. Gray ran into the women after she said she mistakenly stepped on the accelerator instead of the brake as she pulled out of the parking lot.
The impact threw the pair onto the hood of Gray’s 1994 Lexus and carried them up to 20 feet before they fell to the asphalt.
Gray initially said she was distracted by her dog, which was in the front seat with her. Later, she admitted consuming two glasses of wine before driving to the store. Gray had two previous drunken-driving convictions in 1994 and 2003.
She admitted all the charges against her in the hopes of receiving probation. Instead, Judge Jamie Thistlethwaite sentenced her to seven years and four months in prison.
Under state law, she must serve 85 percent of the time before she is eligible for parole.
Now, Gray is asking to withdraw her plea and reverse her sentence. If she is successful, she could demand a trial and use her medical condition as a defense. She could also seek different settlement terms with reduced or no prison time.
The matter could be decided at a future hearing, which has yet to scheduled.
In the meantime, Stogner will argue at a July 19 bail hearing that Gray should be released on bail from the women’s prison at Chowchilla.
“Our client is almost 80 years old and poses no risk to the community or threat of fleeing,” Stogner said.
Jackie Simon’s son, Steve Friedman, said Thursday he believes the punishment should stand. He accused Gray of trying to avoid taking responsibility for killing his mother.
“She asked for mercy from the court rather than a jury trial and didn’t get the result she wanted,” Friedman said. “Now she’s looking for another way out.”
A dispute between Gray and the victims’ families over collection of a civil settlement is ongoing.
You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 707-568-5312 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @ppayne.