A Carson, Calif., man avoided a felony conviction when a Nez Perce County jury found him guilty of vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence Friday.
Pompeyo Salazar-Cabrera, 33, did not react when the verdict by the jury consisting of nine women and four men was announced in Nez Perce County 2nd District Court. The jurors found Salazar-Cabrera innocent of the felony charge of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, but it convicted him of the lesser charge, a misdemeanor punishable with up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. A sentencing date was not immediately set by Judge Fred Gibler of Kootenai County.
Hayden Garrett, 19, of Clarkston, was killed March 18, 2018, when a semitruck driven by Salazar-Cabrera crashed into his car near the bottom of the Lewiston Hill at the intersection of U.S. Highway 12/95 and State Highway 128. Garrett died from his injuries at the scene.
The state claimed Salazar-Cabrera drove recklessly, reaching speeds of as much as 67 miles per hour down the grade, with smoke billowing from the brakes of his truck. He did not use any of several runaway truck ramps along U.S. Highway 95, which reaches a 7 percent grade on the hill.
Salazar-Cabrera’s truck drove over a weight scale at the top of the hill at 6:12 a.m., and the first calls for the crash came in at 6:21 a.m. Deputy prosecutors April Smith and Jessica Uhrig submitted cellphone records indicating Salazar-Cabrera made an outgoing call at 6:07 a.m. that lasted for about 13 minutes. He made another call at 6:23 a.m. Garrett’s cellphone records were also admitted into evidence and showed he made no calls or texts the morning of the crash.
Salazar-Cabrera claimed, through his attorney Jonathan Hally, his truck suffered brake fade and he was unable to slow down as he descended the hill. He told police he was in the eighth gear of his 10-gear truck and was driving 35 mph prior to the crash.
Nez Perce County Persecutor Justin Coleman said he and his fellow prosecutors are disappointed in the outcome of the trial.
“We felt very strongly that the defendant’s actions and decisions made this case a felony,” Coleman said.
He praised deputy prosecutors Smith and Uhrig for their work on the case.
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