Manslaughter charge upgraded to murder charge for Gilroy man

James Francis Lee

Instead of the vehicular manslaughter charge he originally
faced, a Gilroy man is now up against a murder charge, and a
maximum prison sentence of 15 years to life.
Instead of the vehicular manslaughter charge he originally faced, a Gilroy man is now up against a murder charge, and a maximum prison sentence of 15 years to life.

James Francis Lee, 44, will be arraigned next week on the amended charge that stems from the drunken driving accident that killed 4-year-old Jose Cortez-Diaz the evening of July 11.

That evening, Cortez-Diaz’s family’s truck broke down on the west side of southbound U.S. 101 just south of Metcalf Road in South San Jose. The boy’s mother and sister got out of the smoking 2001 Chevrolet S-10 and his father, Jesus Cortez, was working to unbuckle his son’s seat belt when Lee’s truck, a 1989 Ford F-250, slammed into the S-10. The impact caused a toolbox in the S-10’s bed to fly through the rear window and strike the boy.

Cortez-Diaz was pronounced dead about two hours later at Valley Medical Center after sustaining major head wounds.

Police arrested Lee at the crash and took him into custody after he was treated for minor cuts. Lee, who was returning home to Gilroy from a heavy metal concert in Mountain View, was allegedly intoxicated and veered off the road, colliding with the family’s truck at about 65 or 70 mph, California Highway Patrol Officer Jaime Rios said. His blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit of 0.08, police said. The S-10 was “almost unrecognizable” after the crash and the F-250 rolled onto its roof, Rios said.

Prosecutors originally charged Lee with gross vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence of alcohol over the legal limit and causing injury. They initially offered the defendant a deal that would have sent him to prison for 28 years and four months if he pleaded guilty to the charges by Oct. 14, said Amy Cornell, a spokeswoman for the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office. Lee did not plea by that date and now faces an amended complaint that has upgraded the charge of vehicular manslaughter to one of murder.

“He knew his behavior was dangerous to human life,” Cornell said.

Lee will be arraigned on the amended charge 1:30 p.m. Oct. 28 in Department 23 at the Hall of Justice in San Jose.

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