A Murrieta man accused of killing a 25-year-old motorist in an alcohol-fueled wreck in Palm Springs must stand trial on second- degree murder and other felony charges, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Michael David Torrez, 36, declined to challenge the government’s evidence at a preliminary hearing Tuesday at the Larson Justice Center in Indio. The move prompted Riverside County Superior Court Judge Burke Strunsky to rule there was sufficient evidence to warrant a trial on the murder count, as well as two felony counts of driving under the influence resulting in injuries.
Torrez then re-entered not guilty pleas, as is required following a preliminary hearing.
Torrez, who remains in custody in lieu of $1 million at the Southwest Detention Center in Murrieta, is scheduled to return to court on March 8 for a trial-readiness conference.
The defendant was allegedly driving at nearly double the legal blood- alcohol limit of .08 when his pickup truck crashed into two cars on March 16, 2018, killing Mario Garcia of Palm Springs.
Torrez was later charged with murder rather than vehicular manslaughter because he was previously convicted of driving while under the influence of alcohol. Drivers with DUI convictions are warned at sentencing that if they do it again, and cause a death, they could face a murder charge.
A declaration in support of an arrest warrant prepared by Palm Springs Police Department Officer Richard Salomon said Torrez was observed heading westbound on Ramon Road while “swerving in and out of the lanes at a high rate of speed” prior to the 11 p.m. crash.
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 document states. The Versa crashed into a curb and street sign, but its occupants were uninjured, according to Palm Springs police.
Investigators allege that Torrez had to be sedated and restrained while being transported to Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs for treatment of major injuries he suffered in the crash.
He “yelled profanities at emergency personnel” and “flailed his arms and attempted to free himself from restraints that were applied to him,” according to the declaration, which alleges he told a responding firefighter, “When I get done, I am going to (expletive) you up!”
Torrez was convicted of a misdemeanor DUI in 2008 and sentenced to three years probation. He has additional misdemeanor convictions — possession of an assault weapon, possession of a large capacity magazine and possession of drug paraphernalia — but no felony convictions in Riverside County.