After a four-month delay and a daylong hearing, a Lompoc Superior Court judge on Friday found probable cause to hold a former United States airman to answer for the August 2016 crash that killed Lompoc residents Ruben and Bertha Betancourt.
Despite claims from the defense that the blood sample collected at Marian Regional Medical Center was tainted through a natural fermentation process, and over their insistence that Shaquille Lindsey was not impaired when his rented Dodge Challenger struck the Betancourts' Ford Focus, Judge Raimundo Montes de Oca held the 25-year-old Georgia man to answer on all charges.
"I recognize that, if this were a trial, I might have to weight the evidence differently ... [and] take into account some of the perceived inaccuracies, ... but at this point, that's not my function," Montes de Oca told prosecutors and the defense. "My function is simply to see whether or not there is sufficient evidence to believe the crimes were committed by Mr. Lindsey. I believe they were."
Lindsey will appear in Santa Maria Superior Court on Monday, June 3 for his arraignment on the information, which include two felony counts of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and one felony count of DUI involving drugs (marijuana) causing injury.
He is represented by Kenneth Hamilton, as well as his mother, Stephanie, a Covington, Georgia-based criminal defense attorney.
California Highway Patrol officers who reviewed witness statements as well as crash data from the rented vehicle testified Friday that Lindsey was travelling southbound in the northbound lane for several seconds prior to the crash.
Data recorded by the vehicle's event data recorder, a type of "black box" for automobiles, reported a speed of 63 mph — 18 mph over the posted speed limit — at the time of the collision.
The recorder, which also took a snapshot of wheel rotation in the brief period before the incident, did not show any attempt by Lindsey to correct the course.
"[Mr. Lindsey] crossed the double-yellow lines, drove on the wrong side of the road [and] was going 60 mph," Assistant U.S. Attorney Joanna Curtis told the court.
Curtis and Assistant U.S. Attorney Julian Andre were sworn in by the Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office to prosecute the case after it was moved from federal court.
They maintain the crash was the direct result of Lindsey's impairment.
"Clearly he was impaired and not paying attention that there was another car in front of him," Curtis added.
Blood samples tested during Lindsey's post-collision hospitalization revealed a blood alcohol concentration under the 0.08 legal limit.
Although the sample reported a lower blood alcohol concentration when tested by the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System at Dover Air Force Base, it revealed the presence of marijuana.
Hamilton and Stephanie Lindsey challenged the reliability of the blood samples in February, alleging the blood prosecutors attributed to Lindsey did not correspond with his blood type.
Montes de Oca announced on Friday that the court-ordered DNA test matched the blood sample with a cheek swab sample taken from Lindsey.
Still, Okorie Okorocha — who holds a master's degree in veterinary forensic medicine and was called on by the defense as an expert in forensic toxicology — argued the sample was unreliable as a measure of intoxication as no preservative was used when it was drawn at the hospital.
Due to the lack of preservatives, Okorocha said, the blood had fermented and broken down sugars into alcohol.
"[The blood sample] would not be reliable because you have fermented blood," he told the court. "You have alcohol that is created outside the person's body."
While he acknowledged the presence of marijuana in the blood sample, Okorocha called it an "extraordinarily low level" and not likely to affect Lindsey's driving performance.
Citing a congressional report issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Okorocha claimed that "marijuana caused slower driving and more following space," and that "it led to safer driving in many people."
Stephanie Lindsey said the alleged blood fermentation, combined with Okorocha's testimony and statements from medical personnel who did not suspect intoxication at the time of his hospital admission, are clear indicators of Lindsey's lack of impairment.