A man accused of driving drunk after he killed a Lodi woman in an accident Wednesday could face a murder charge because he had drunken driving conviction from June.
Additionally, 21-year-old Luis Hernandez, of Stockton, has two pending cases for driving under the influence since February, the most recent one less than two weeks before Wednesday's fatal crash. All told, he has now been charged in four separate DUI cases in the last year.
Hernandez was driving west on Tokay Colony Road around 8:45 that night when he reached a driveway where Violet Mae Hill had stopped to check her mail.
Hill, 76, usually stayed in her car while her husband, Lou Hill, checked the mail, their normal routine, according to neighbors. But Lou Hill had just suffered a heart attack and had quadruple bypass heart surgery, neighbor Tim Maloney said Friday.
Lou Hill was staying with his daughter in Stockton, closer to the hospital where he was being treated, and didn't learn of his wife's death until Thursday, Maloney said.
Maloney was one of the first people on scene after Hernandez's car struck Hill's Buick, which then struck her, according to the California Highway Patrol.
The Hills regularly took cookies, vegetables and other food to their neighbors, and Maloney found himself trying to return the favor Friday by cleaning up the glass and car parts scattered in front of the Hills' home.
"They were just neat people; whatever they made, they would share it," he said.
The crash, which witness Gabe Watts described as "boom, skid, boom, skid," brought neighbors running to the scene.
Hernandez, who had minor injuries, was taken to a hospital and then booked into the San Joaquin County Jail.
Wearing orange jail clothing, he made his first court appearance Friday.
Court records show that Hernandez was convicted of driving under the influence in June 2007 in Amador County.
He was charged with another DUI on Feb. 26 in San Joaquin County, and given a March 17 court date. He didn't appear in court and a judge issued a warrant for his arrest.
Law enforcement caught up to Hernandez on May 1, when he was again arrested for driving under the influence. He was booked into jail on both DUI charges.
But on May 5, Hernandez was released from the jail, which regularly turns inmates loose due to overcrowding. Nine days later, his path crossed Hill's.
Because of his DUI conviction last summer, Hernandez could face a second-degree murder charge because of a 2004 law regarding repeat offenders.
Since January 2005, everyone convicted of driving under the influence in California is advised of the law, and must initial a paper that explains the consequences.
Hernandez is currently charged with gross vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence of alcohol. With the assistance of a Spanish language interpreter, he pleaded not guilty Friday to those charges. He will return to court June 5.
Judge David Warner set bail at $100,000, saying that he hoped the jail would not release Hernandez.
Deputy District Attorney Pat Rieta-Garcia only learned of Hernandez's previous DUI conviction Friday morning. She said her office will decide whether to increase charges to murder once they receive a copy of the Amador County file.
A second-degree murder charge carries a maximum penalty of 15 years to life in prison.