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Johnson, Driver Involved in Fatal Crash, Pleads Not Guilty to 5 Felony Charges

Deputy District Attorney Kristen Spieler makes statements that the defendant was racing and zig-zagging in and out of traffic just before his friend's car crashed.

A 18-year-old man who was allegedly racing another young motorist when the other , killing two teenage passengers, pleaded not guilty Thursday to five felony charges, including gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.

Michael Sebastian Johnson, a graduate of , faces 15 years in state prison if convicted.

Judge David Szumowski allowed Johnson to remain free on $50,000 bail, despite statements from Deputy District Attorney Kristen Spieler that the defendant was racing and zig-zagging in and out of traffic just before his friend's car crashed near Convoy Street on April 4 about 11:45 p.m. as they headed home from a bonfire at La Jolla Shores.

Szumowski refused to increase bail to $250,000 but ordered Johnson to surrender his driver's license and to refrain from driving while the case is pending.

Spieler said Johnson -- who stayed at the scene after the crash -- appeared to be under the influence and a small amount of drugs was found in his car.

"I think obviously, as everyone knows, this is an extremely serious case," Spieler told reporters outside court. "The circumstances couldn't be more dire. And unfortunately it presents an example and a reminder to young people, about the dangers of, first of all driving recklessly, and obviously involving any substance abuse while driving, It's just a horrific, horrific case and there's tragedy on both sides."

The on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter and other charges.

The younger suspect, whose name was withheld because he's a minor, went to the California Highway Patrol's San Diego station on Pacific Highway along with his father about 10 a.m. to turn himself in after being notified that an arrest warrant had been issued for him, CHP public-affairs Officer Art Athans said.

Athans said the younger teen was behind the wheel of a Volkswagen Passat, taking four other teenagers home from the beach party when he lost control of the sedan, which careened into a center divider near Convoy Street, struck a bridge pillar and flipped seven times, end over end.

Two back-seat passengers in the Passat, 16-year-old Jayli Campbell and 18-year-old Anthony Foreman, were ejected from the vehicle and killed. It appeared that neither had been wearing seat belts, Athans said.

The driver of the Volkswagen sustained moderate injuries in the crash. His other two passengers, a 17-year-old boy and a .

Johnson, who was driving a Volvo S40 sedan, was not involved in the crash, and he and his two passengers were uninjured. The 16-year-old driver was found to have been sober at the time of the accident. A detention hearing is scheduled for the younger driver tomorrow in Juvenile Court.

Russell Babcock, an attorney representing Michael Johnson, said his client was not the driver of the car that crashed and therefore "was not legally or morally responsible for the victims' deaths in any way."

Babcock said he was "surprised" prosecutors decided to bring felony charges against Johnson.

The attorney said Johnson was the designated driver for his group of friends and there was no evidence that he was impaired.

Besides two counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, Johnson was charged with engaging in a speed contest causing injury, reckless driving causing injury and possession of marijuana while driving.

A preliminary hearing for Johnson was set for April 26.

-City News Service

bme April 13, 2012 at 02:37 AM
Russell Babcock, an attorney representing Michael Johnson, said his client was not the driver of the car that crashed and therefore "was not legally or morally responsible for the victims' deaths in any way." With all due respect, Mr. Babcock, you are wrong. He is most definitely legally AND morally responsible for the victims' deaths. He was speeding. He was under the influence. He was zigzagging through cars. He was illegally street-racing. Just because his car did not crash does not make him less responsible. I agree that this is a horrific, awful case. This should not have happened! But people need to start being held responsible for their actions and decisions. People need to start being held accountable for their actions and decisions. This young man is fortunate that he did not cause harm to MORE people on the road that night. If he is not found guilty, what does that teach other young drivers? NOTHING!
Joe Spencer April 13, 2012 at 05:19 AM
Perfectly stated. I was thinking the same thing as soon as I read the comments from the attorney.
Lisa April 15, 2012 at 05:54 AM
This 18 year old needs to be OFF the road because he is a threat to others with his disregard for the safety of his passengers and everyone else on the road. This is like shooting a gun aimlessly and just because you don't hit anyone does not mean it was not wrong to do and that you should not be punished.
S Radzikowski April 20, 2012 at 05:57 PM
So, bme writer, the article notes the following information. 1. "Judge David Szumowski allowed Johnson to remain free on $50,000 bail, despite statements from Deputy District Attorney Kristen Spieler that the defendant was racing and zig-zagging in and out of traffic just before his friend's car crashed..." 2. "Deputy District Attorney Kristen...SPIELER SAID Johnson -- who stayed at the scene after the crash -- appeared to be under the influence and a small amount of drugs was found in his car 3. "Johnson, who was driving a Volvo S40 sedan, was not involved in the crash, and he and his two passengers were uninjured." 4. "Russell Babcock, an attorney representing Michael Johnson...said Johnson was the designated driver for his group of friends and there was no evidence that he was impaired. But, bme, based on the above, you have already opined as judge and jury that JOHNSON is responsible and if "he is not found guilty, what does that teach other young drivers" The real question is: What does your ignoring the limited facts in evidence, teach about justice? Let's just get a rope and hang the kid, now, huh?!
S Radzikowski April 22, 2012 at 08:42 AM
Motivated: Sorry, but you have made statements that are not factual, which only stirs up the BS factor for the public. In the news article, there is no fact that the 18 year old was driving 110 mph recklessly down the freeway, or weaving in and out of traffic. There is no evidence that he was "under the influence." There is no evidence that he had drugs in the care "with him." Those are merely statements made by Deputy District Attorney Kristen Spieler, who did not witness the accident, nor was she at the accident scene afterwards. It is Ms. Spieler's M.O. to throw all that against the wall, and hope that something sticks (she'll worry about the facts later). What we do know, is that Judge Szumowski - who did read and/or did hear factual evidence presented in court - apparently did not find any of DA Spieler's media comments of sufficient factual value to throw Johnson in jail or even increase his bail! He let the 18 year old remain free. Come on folks, read the facts before inserting foot in mouth.

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