An alleged drunken driver accused of causing a head-on crash in Desert Hot Springs that killed one person and seriously injured several others pleaded not guilty Tuesday to felony vehicular manslaughter and DUI charges.
William Rojas, 24, of Palm Springs, is accused of causing a three-car crash on Indian Canyon Drive that fatally injured 64-year-old Riverside resident Zhenkui Li and left five others hospitalized on Feb. 5, 2017. Li died of his injuries five days later at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs.
Prosecutors filed charges against Rojas in November 2017, and he was arrested in May 2018 at the Morongo Casino in Cabazon.
Rojas, who remains in custody at the Southwest Detention Center in Murrieta in lieu of $500,000 bail, is due back in court on Jan. 21 for a trial- readiness conference.
He is charged with DUI gross vehicular manslaughter, causing bodily injury while driving under the influence of alcohol and causing bodily injury while driving under the influence of alcohol with a blood-alcohol concentration of .08% or more.
The crash occurred just after 2:30 p.m. on North Indian Canyon Drive, just north of 19th Avenue. Rojas was headed south on Indian Canyon when his Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck drifted into the northbound lanes, directly into the path of a Toyota Camry driven by Haitao Yuan, in which Li was a passenger, according to court documents.
The crash vaulted Rojas’ truck over that vehicle and onto another vehicle behind Yuan’s car, ripping off that car’s roof and rear hatch, according to an arrest warrant declaration. Rojas’ truck rolled over twice before coming to a stop. Li, Yuan, and three other passengers in the Toyota were taken to hospitals, along with the driver of the third car.
Rojas later admitted having two beers about an hour prior to the crash, according to the declaration. A blood sample indicated that he had a 0.11 blood-alcohol content — above the legal limit of 0.08 — at the time of the crash, the declaration alleges.
Li’s family, as well as other crash victims, filed a lawsuit in 2018 against Rojas, the cities of Desert Hot Springs and Palm Springs and Riverside County. The current status of that lawsuit was not immediately clear.