Trial set for teen accused in crash that killed popular GHS student

Gilroy
– A 19-year-old Morgan Hill resident charged with the death of
popular Gilroy High School cheerleader Erin Kinkel will stand trial
beginning May 16. Anthony Scott McDowell is charged with vehicular
manslaughter in connection with Kinkel’s death following an
early-morning crash on a rural road last
August.
By Lori Stuenkel

Gilroy – A 19-year-old Morgan Hill resident charged with the death of popular Gilroy High School cheerleader Erin Kinkel will stand trial beginning May 16. Anthony Scott McDowell is charged with vehicular manslaughter in connection with Kinkel’s death following an early-morning crash on a rural road last August.

Superior Court Judge Susan Bernardini will preside over the trial, which is scheduled to start at 9am in Department 90 at the San Martin South County courthouse. Bernardini also set a pre-trial hearing, at which prosecutors will present some of their evidence, for April 14 at 1:30pm.

Amir Alem, the deputy district attorney who is prosecuting the case, said a trial would likely last one week.

Wearing a black suit and tie, McDowell sat on the right side of the courtroom with several family members before appearing before the judge at 1:30pm Thursday.

On his lapel was a pin with a photograph of a smiling Erin Kinkel, who was 15 years old when she died after being thrown from the bed of McDowell’s pick-up truck last Aug. 1. Kinkel’s friends made the pins, reading “Remember Erin Kinkel. Remember your seat belt,” shortly after she died and distributed them at Gilroy high and to other friends.

Also wearing the pins were Kinkel’s parents, Miki and Scott, who were joined by family, including Kinkel’s grandmother, on the left side of the courtroom.

When Judge Bernardini announced the trial date, Scott Kinkel threw his fist in the air and audibly whispered “Yeah!” He did the same outside the courtroom, but both he and his wife declined comment.

If convicted of vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence, McDowell, who was 18 at the time of the crash, could face one year in county jail, as well as various fines, probation terms and other conditions the court could impose.

McDowell has been free on $5,000 bail since his Aug. 25 surrender to Sheriff’s deputies.

Just after midnight on Aug. 1, McDowell was driving with Kinkel and two other friends westbound on Redwood Retreat Road west of Gilroy, near Mt. Madonna Road. He had one passenger in the cab of his 1985 Ford F-250, wearing a seat belt, while 15-year-old Kinkel and another GHS student rode unrestrained in the bed. The two girls were lying in the bed with their heads toward the tailgate.

When trying to negotiate a left-hand curve, the right rear wheel of McDowell’s truck went off the edge of the paved road and onto the uneven dirt-and-grass shoulder. It continued toward a dirt embankment, where the left front corner of the truck struck a tree.

On impact, Kinkel and the other female passenger were thrown from the bed of the truck. The first girl landed on the shoulder west of the truck, sustaining a dislocated shoulder and various minor injuries.

Kinkel was thrown farther west of the truck, onto the paved road, sustaining severe head injuries. She was pronounced dead while en route to Saint Louise Regional Hospital.

McDowell was traveling between 40 and 45 mph, according to the CHP.

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