A 28-year-old former Stanford Graduate School of Business student who drove the wrong way down U.S. Highway 101 in 2013, killing one man and seriously injuring two others, was convicted of felony charges on Friday, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said.
A San Mateo County jury found Zachary Katz guilty of one count of felony vehicular manslaughter under the influence of alcohol; felony driving under the influence of alcohol causing bodily injury; felony driving with .08 percent or higher blood alcohol causing bodily jury; with a great bodily injury enhancement and a multiple-victims allegation, the latter two adding time to a sentence. He could face up to 12 years in state prison, but Wagstaffe said this was Katz's first brush with the law.
California Highway Patrol deputies arrested Katz on Oct. 5, 2013, after he drove his Infiniti sedan north onto southbound Highway 101 in South San Francisco for 1.75 miles before striking a Ford Escape SUV taxi head-on at about 3:50 a.m. The cab careened across the roadway and was struck by a Mazda traveling south.
The accident killed taxi passenger Pedro Juan Soldevilla, 62, of Puerto Rico. He was completely ejected from the vehicle and died at the scene. A second passenger, Miguel Santiago, was taken to the hospital with major injuries and survived. Neither passenger was wearing a seatbelt, according to the CHP. The taxi driver, identified as 31-year-old Azmach Ejersa of Emeryville, was also hospitalized with major injuries. The Mazda driver was uninjured.
Katz, who attended Stanford at the time, was also hospitalized with major injuries. He had a blood alcohol content of around 0.15/0.16 at the time of the crash, CHP said at the time. A blood test found a 0.13 percent alcohol reading at the hospital two hours later, according to the DA’s office.
The case was "a battle," Wagstaffe said, as Katz's defense tried to knock the blood evidence out of court. The defense had argued that his blood was drawn involuntarily.
On Oct. 27, 2015, San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Barbara Mallach ruled 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 involuntary and violated Katz's Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure. The judge acknowledged at the time that no appellate case existed holding that reading the defendant his rights was required to draw the blood. Prosecutors filed an appeal on Nov. 24, 2015.
The California First District Court of Appeal reinstated the blood evidence on March 29, 2016. The state Supreme Court agreed with the appeals court on June 15, 2016, refusing to hear the case.
The case was again argued in the state appeals court in November 2016, but the court found in January that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling did not apply to the inevitable discovery doctrine on which Katz's appeal was based. The state Supreme Court again declined to hear the case in March. The appeals court's decision therefore became final in April.
Katz remained out of custody on a $250,000 bail bond on condition that he may not operate a motor vehicle and he must abstain from alcohol.
The jury deliberated for two days but then two of the jurors needed to leave for previously scheduled trips. Two alternate jurors were brought in, and the deliberations started anew and lasted two days, Wagstaffe said.
The victims’ families and Katz's family were in court throughout the trial. Wagstaffe said there were no winners of the trail but that "justice was done." When someone drives drunk and someone dies, "there has to be consequences," he said.
Katz was taken into custody and is being held without bail. He will return to court for sentencing on Jan. 5.