Trial date set in fatal DUI case

James Francis Lee

The trial for James Francis Lee, the Gilroy man who is charged with murder for causing the death of a 4-year-old boy from a 2010 drunken driving car crash has been delayed for the fourth time and is now slated for Sept. 24.
“I think the defense and I are both hopeful that this is the last delay,” said Angela Bernhard, deputy district attorney for the case. Lee, 45, has been in custody for two years.
Lee was driving home from a heavy-metal concert in July 2010 when he crashed into a parked car along U.S. Highway 101 north of Morgan Hill, killing Gilroy resident Jose Cortes-Diaz, according to the California Highway Patrol.
This time, the reason for yet another delay in the case is the defendant has asked for time to have a mechanic evaluate his truck to determine if there were factors that caused the crash outside his control, such as his brakes being faulty.
Lee hasn’t had someone examine his truck yet, a 1989 Ford F250, because it was tied up from a mix-up at Bracco’s Towing, the Gilroy company that towed the truck the night of the accident. Bracco’s actually sold the truck about a year after the accident before California Highway Patrol released them to.
“The best we could come up with after our investigation is that this was a mistake. Some employee accidentally sold the vehicle,” Bernhard said.
Councilman Dion Bracco, of Bracco’s Towing, said there was a mix-up with one of his employees who was directed to sell another Ford pickup truck to a customer, but sold Lee’s truck instead.
“People weren’t paying attention when it happened,” said Bracco, who wasn’t at the shop when the mistake occurred. Now, Bracco has a new rule: No vehicle leaves the parking lot unless he gives it the OK.
“I’ve handled the impound contract for the CHP for 20 years and I’ve never had a problem until now,” Bracco said. “Now I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
The courts were able to track down the truck’s new owner and found it intact with all parts present except for the stereo and an external fuel tank – neither of which would threaten the integrity of the evidence, Bernhard said.
The truck sits at Bracco’s Towing once again, where it will await evaluation from Lee’s mechanic, and according to CHP protocol for any vehicle involved in a criminal car wreck, the truck is to remain there until the case has closed.
The prosecutors had the vehicle evaluated and determined there were no mechanical factors playing into the car crash. But the defense wants a second opinion, and Lee’s family has only recently drummed up the money to do that, Bernhard said.
“I felt he had good cause to seek a continuance,” Bernhard said.
The other cause for a continuance is just that his defense attorney has been tied up in other time-consuming cases.
Lee is charged with murder, gross vehicular manslaughter, driving under the influence of alcohol while causing injury and driving with a 0.08 or higher blood alcohol content, Bernhard said.
Bernhard is semi-confident about how the trial will pan out.
“We’ve got a strong case,” she said. “But ultimately this is in the hands of the jury, and it’s hard for jurors to wrap their minds around how a car crash can be murder. A lot of people think of murderers as someone shooting or stabbing someone else.”
Unless something unforeseen happens during the next three months, this will be the last time the trial is delayed, Bernhard said.