With one leg in a thick cast, Ryan Christopher Morales was wheeled into a Stockton courtroom Wednesday afternoon to be arraigned on six counts of murder, two felony counts of DUI and multiple other criminal charges stemming from an October crash that killed six members of a Lodi family, including an unborn child.
The 28-year-old Lodi man sat confined to a wheelchair, wearing a red jumpsuit that marked him as a high-risk inmate, as a San Joaquin County Superior Court judge read each of the 15 counts during a hearing that lasted no more than 10 minutes.
Frequently, Morales looked toward his mother, father and aunt sitting in a packed audience a short distance away.
Judge Stephen Demetrius announced the six counts of murder, six counts of gross vehicular manslaughter, one count of driving under the influence, one count of driving with a blood-alcohol level above 0.08, and a misdemeanor count of driving with a suspended license before asking Morales if he understood the charges presented.
“I do,” Morales quietly replied.
Morales then softly asked Judge Demetrius for a court-appointed attorney. San Joaquin County Public Defender Sam Behar requested the arraignment be delayed one month based on his lack of familiarity with the case.
Instead, the judge postponed the arraignment to Monday at 9 a.m.
“He’s very depressed. We’re very depressed,” Cheryl Morales, Ryan Morales’ aunt, said outside the courtroom following the hearing. “We’re very sorry for everything that’s happened to him and the whole family over there on that side.”
In front of the lights and lenses of a half-dozen television cameras, members of the Morales family said they felt sorrow for their son and the victims of an Oct. 22 crash that left most of a Lodi family dead and six more people injured.
According to court records, Morales was pinned inside his vehicle and officers said he smelled of alcohol when they arrived at the crash scene at the intersection of Ham Lane and Vine Street. The records also stated that Morales had a blood-alcohol level of 0.20 when he was admitted to a Sacramento-area emergency room, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08.
Investigators found the needle of the speedometer on the SUV he was driving stuck past 100 miles per hour, and believe it indicates his speed at the time of the collision.
The six-vehicle crash killed Luis Miranda Ochoa, 32, Vivian Rodriguez Salgado, 31, who was seven months pregnant, and their children Irvin Miranda, 12, Jose Luis Miranda, 6, and Stephanie Miranda, 5.
Nine-year-old Eden Miranda, the lone family member to survive the crash, was released from the hospital to his godmother in Lodi last week.
“I still can’t believe it,” James Morales, the suspect’s father, quietly said.
Ryan Morales spent nearly a week in a medically induced coma, James Morales said. When he came out of the coma with no recollection of the crash, his parents broke the news.
“He started crying,” James Morales said.
Meanwhile, a man who only identified himself as Ryan Morales’ uncle pleaded the public to have mercy on his nephew.
“He had an accident. Everybody makes mistakes,” he said. “He’s loving, he’s caring and he’ll help anybody. He just had an accident. He’s having a hard time dealing with this.”
Contact reporter Kristopher Anderson at email@example.com.