A Lodi man suspected of causing a crash that killed six members of a local family is a father with an extensive criminal history that includes convictions for domestic violence, burglary, possession of methamphetamine, evading police and more, according to court records.
Ryan Christopher Morales, 28, is in critical condition in a Sacramento-area hospital, where Lodi police are prepared to arrest him once his medical condition improves.
Lodi police say Morales, who did not have a driver’s license, was speeding and talking on his phone when he caused a six-vehicle crash that left six people dead and another six injured at the intersection of Ham Lane and Vine Street on Oct. 22.
Witnesses said Morales was driving “faster than freeway speeds” at the time of the crash. Search warrant documents also indicate that officers believe Morales was drinking with his father prior to the crash.
Morales, who was on post-release community supervision at the time of the collision, has been in and out of jail for at least the last 10 years, according to court records.
His most recent conviction stemmed from evading police in a vehicle on New Year’s Day of this year in Fremont.
Court records show that in that incident, Morales was driving erratically, running red lights and driving, at times, on the wrong side of the road. When officers later asked him why he was driving so recklessly, Morales said if the chase became too dangerous, he knew police would call it off.
Morales added he learned that strategy from watching the television show “COPS,” according to court records.
Meanwhile, in an interview with the Lodi News-Sentinel on Friday, James Morales, Ryan Morales’ father, said his son spent roughly a week in a medically induced coma following the crash in Lodi. He added that his son doesn’t know why he’s in the hospital, and family members haven’t told him he was involved in a crash that killed six people.
“He’s in critical condition,” James Morales said. “I don’t need to throw that on top of it.”
Ryan Morales’ run-ins with police began at the age of 18, when he was arrested and eventually convicted of battery and vandalism, court records show.
Morales served 90 days in jail — the first of many incarcerations.
As the years went on, the arrests piled up.
He’s been arrested at least 16 times, most occurring in Fremont, where he has spent the majority of his adult life.
Between 2003 and 2008, he was arrested and convicted four times for battery, court records show. Three of the cases involved women with whom he had a relationship. Two of the women have sons with Morales, court records show.
Morales has been arrested three times for commercial burglary and three times for petty theft.
In all, Morales has been convicted of 10 crimes, including two felonies.
“He’s a good son,” James Morales said. “He wants to do right, but life doesn’t always deal you a good hand.”
Morales out of coma
On Friday, San Joaquin County Deputy District Attorney Robert Himmelblau said most of Morales’ previous convictions wouldn’t have any effect on the charges he could face as a result of the crash.
“For example, if he had 200 shoplifting priors, but never went to prison on them, they would have no impact on this case at all,” Himmelblau said.
Earlier this week, authorities announced they plan to pursue murder charges against Morales.
Himmelblau said that Morales’ prior prison sentence could add one year to a new sentence if he is convicted of a crime in connection with the crash.
According to search warrant documents, when officers arrived at the scene of the crash, they found Morales pinned inside an SUV and said he smelled of alcohol. Later that night, Morales’ mother told investigators that Morales and his father drank an entire 750 mL bottle of apple flavored vodka less than an hour and a half before the crash, the warrant said.
Six members of the Miranda family were killed in the crash. Irvin Miranda, 12, and sister Stephanie Miranda, 5, died at the scene. Jose Luis Miranda, 6, and parents Luis Miranda Ochoa, 32, and Vivian Rodriguez Salgado, 31, who was seven months pregnant, were transported to area hospitals, where they later died.
Nine-year-old Eden Miranda, the lone survivor from that vehicle, is being treated at UC Davis Medical Center, where he is recovering and was upgraded from critical to stable condition this week.
Lodi Police Lt. Sierra Brucia said because of his medical condition, police have not yet been able to interview Morales.
James Morales said his son has been in and out of consciousness this week, but at times he has been able to speak.
Doctors haven’t determined if Morales’ legs will have to be amputated as a result of injuries sustained during the crash, but at the very least, a large piece of his calf must be removed, James Morales said.
Morales also has a collapsed lung and several other injuries, and he can’t breathe on his own.
“He’s feisty,” James Morales said before leaving Lodi to visit his son in the hospital. “He wants to get out (of the hospital).”
Contact reporter Kristopher Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.