Blood-alcohol evidence in a vehicular manslaughter case against a former Stanford University student is admissible in his trial, the California First District Court of Appeal has ruled. The state Supreme Court on June 15 also refused to hear a defense appeal of the ruling, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said.
Zachary A. Katz, 27, faces charges of vehicular manslaughter, driving under the influence causing great bodily injury, driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 or higher causing great bodily injury and driving on the wrong side of a highway causing death or great bodily injury. The charges stem from a car crash in which he allegedly was driving drunk the wrong way on U.S. Highway 101 in the early morning of Oct. 5, 2013.
The former Stanford Graduate School of Business student struck a taxi head on after driving north onto southbound Highway 101 near Sierra Point Parkway and crashed into the SUV, according to the DA's office. A California Highway Patrol officer spotted him allegedly driving north in the southbound lane.
Katz drove for 1.75 miles before he crashed into a Ford Escape taxi, according to a CHP report. The two rear-seat passengers in the taxi, Pedro Soldevila and Miguel Santiago, who were not wearing seat belts, were ejected from the vehicle. Soldevila died at the scene; Santiago suffered skull, humerus and clavicle fractures. The taxi driver, Azmach Ejersa, suffered a broken foot.
Katz was trapped in his car for 1 1/2 hours before emergency responders could extricate him, according to Wagstaffe. He allegedly had a preliminary alcohol screening of 0.15/0.16. A blood test found a 0.13 percent alcohol reading at the hospital two hours later, according to Wagstaffe.
But San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Barbara Mallach ruled on Oct. 27, 2015, that the blood-draw results were not admissible because the CHP officer did not read Katz the implied-consent law prior to taking the blood sample. Mallach concluded that the blood draw was therefore involuntary and violated Katz's Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure.
The judge acknowledged at the time that there is no appellate case supporting that reading the defendant his rights was required to draw the blood. Prosecutors filed an appeal on Nov. 24, 2015.
The Appeals Court reversed Mallach's decision on March 29, 2016, ruling that seizure of the evidence did not violate the Fourth Amendment and that the blood-alcohol results are admissible at trial. Katz's attorney took the Appeal Court ruling to the California Supreme Court, but the justices on June 15 declined to hear the case, Wagstaffe said.
The case was returned to the Superior Court and was continued to Aug. 19 to set a new jury trial date. Katz remains out of custody on a $250,000 bail bond with the conditions that he may not operate a motor vehicle and he must abstain from alcohol.
Stanford spokeswoman Lisa Lapin said on Friday that the university no longer has any active student with Katz's name. His LinkedIn page shows that he became chief strategy officer at Oliver, Inc., a New York-based apartment finding application, where he started in April 2016.