Murrieta Man Pleads Not Guilty to DUI Murder in Palm Springs Crash

Murrieta Man Pleads Not Guilty to DUI Murder in Palm Springs Crash

News Staff

A suspected drunken driver accused of causing a Palm Springs crash that killed another motorist pleaded not guilty to a second- degree murder charge Thursday.

Michael Torrez, 33, of Murrieta, is accused of having a .16 blood- alcohol content — double the legal limit — when he crashed a pickup truck into two cars on March 16. One of the drivers, 25-year-old Palm Springs resident Mario Garcia, died at the scene.

Before the 11 p.m. crash, Torrez allegedly was seen heading westbound on Ramon Road in a pickup truck, “swerving in and out of the lanes at a high rate of speed,” an arrest warrant declaration alleges.

While passing El Cielo Road, Torrez’s Ford F-150 rear-ended a Nissan Versa, then veered into a Nissan Sentra driven by Garcia. The Versa was sent into a curb and street sign after being struck, but its occupants were uninjured, according to Palm Springs police.

Investigators allege that Torrez had to be sedated and restrained as he was being taken to Desert Regional Medical Center for major injuries sustained in the crash.

He “yelled profanities at emergency personnel and he flailed his arms and attempted to free himself from restraints that were applied to him,” according to the declaration, which states that Torrez told a responding firefighter, “When I get done, I am going to (expletive) you up!”

He also allegedly yelled, “I better not get a (expletive) DUI!”

Torrez was charged in April with second-degree murder rather than vehicular manslaughter due to a 2008 DUI conviction out of Temecula, as well as a 2003 DUI conviction when he was under the legal drinking age. Drivers with DUI convictions are warned at sentencing that if they drive under the influence and cause a death, they could face a murder charge.

He’s being held on $1 million bail and is due back in court Nov. 25 for a felony settlement conference.