Victor Manuel Romero, a 28-year-old Garden Grove man, was convicted of killing Raymond MacDonald, a 33-year-old homeless bicyclist in Huntington Beach in a collision while under the influence of alcohol, on March 30, 2019.
Romero was convicted of second-degree murder and hit-and-run causing permanent and serious injury. He had a prior conviction for drunk driving,
Senior Deputy District Attorney Janine Madera told the jury that Romero began his evening on that fateful day by driving his BMW to Hurricane Bar and Grill in Huntington Beach, where he later got into a fist fight in the parking lot.
Police officers were flagged down to deal with that fight and they could see that Romero was intoxicated. They asked him how he would get home and suggested that he call for an Uber ride. He told an officer that his sister would pick him up instead.
Instead Romero ended up in a parking garage elevator where he told a witness, Richard Cole, that he was going to drive home. Cole tried to tell him that was not a good idea as he could see that Romero was inebriated.
Romero then crashed his car into the Cadillac owned by the bar manager, Geronimo Gutierrez, as he screeched out of the bar’s parking lot.
Romero was however not done as he then crashed into the transient, MacDonald, at Beach Boulevard and Adams Avenue, according to Madera.
An Uber driver also testified that he saw Romero speeding and driving through a red light before striking the bicyclist.
Romero kept on driving after hitting MacDonald and eventually he crashed into a tree at Adams Avenue and Lake Street.
Christopher Groh, another witness, said that Romero passed him at such a high rate of speed that his car shook. Groh tried to help Romero, but Romero ran away on foot.
For whatever reason Romero ended up back at the Hurricane Bar, where he told Gutierrez that he had been carjacked and it was not him who crashed into the bar manager’s Cadillac.
The police were not buying that. They noted that Romero still had his car key hanging around his neck. They checked to make sure it matched the BMW. They later collected MacDonald’s DNA from the outside of the BMW.
Romero’s took a blood-alcohol level test and it was measured at 0.18 two hours after the crash. It also turned out that he had marijuana in his system.
Romero pleaded guilty to driving drunk and was given what authorities call a Watson advisement, which warns DUI offenders that if they get caught drunk driving again and kill someone they will face charges upgraded from manslaughter to murder, in 2012.
Madeline Berkley, of the Orange County Public Defender’s Office, Romero’s defense attorney, said the collision was “tragic,” but she claimed that Romero did not have a “conscious disregard for human life” on that night, referring to the legal standard for an implied malice murder legal theory.
A doctor also testified that the concussion Romero likely suffered from repeated blows to the head in the fight affected his ability to make decisions.
Berkley showed jurors cell phone video taken from social media of the fight at the bar that showed Romero’s combatants elbowing and punching him in the head repeatedly.
Berkeley told the jury that Romero could not be found guilty of murder because there was no evidence of that.
The jury disagreed. Romero is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 10.