A formerly married Santa Rosa couple gave their eyewitness account of a July fatal crash west of Santa Rosa this afternoon.
Robert Tuttle, 89, and his ex-wife Mary Stuart, 81, testified for the prosecution at a conditional exam in Sonoma County Superior Court in the case against Heather Howell.
A preliminary hearing date has not yet been set, but Tuttle and Stuart testified today as "essential witnesses" because of their age, Deputy District Attorney Anne Masterson said.
Howell, 28, is charged with murder and reckless driving in the July 14 crash on Hall Road that killed 56-year-old Jesse Garcia of Santa Rosa. The California Highway Patrol has not publicly released a report of the accident.
Howell's attorney, Steve Spiegelman, said the CHP report states a Triumph driven by Garcia, a Lexus driven by Tuttle and an Acura driven by Howell were heading west in that order, and when a motorcycle passed the vehicles on the left, Howell's Acura passed on the right, striking the Lexus and Triumph.
The Triumph overturned and caught fire, trapping and killing Garcia. The CHP turned the accident investigation over to the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office because it believed the events were caused by a domestic violence incident between Howell and her boyfriend Charles Kraus.
Tuttle's and Stuart's account appears to differ from the CHP report. Tuttle and Stuart said they saw a black or dark-colored car chasing a motorcycle on Fulton Road before both speeding vehicles turned right onto Hall Road. Both Tuttle and Stuart said they were unable to see the driver of the car, but assumed it was a man.
Tuttle and Stuart also turned onto Hall Road and said no vehicles were in sight for at least two miles. Both testified a vehicle then hit their Lexus on the right side, pushing it to the left, as they drove down Hall Road.
Tuttle said he didn't see the car that hit his Lexus but he believes it was the car that flipped over and caught fire. He said the driver of the convertible car that passed him at 30-40 mph using the right shoulder of the road appeared to have trouble getting the vehicle under control.
The car turned to the left, then the right, lost traction, spun 360 degrees then drove into a ditch and turned over, trapping the driver.
The gas tank was ruptured and the car began to burn, Tuttle said. The motorcycle was parked across the street and the black car that had pursued it was parked about 150 feet west from the accident scene, Tuttle said.
Tuttle said he then drove behind the motorcycle so the driver would not flee, but the motorcycle rider said, "Get out of the way and don't bother me, I'm not going anywhere."
He said he later saw the motorcycle rider sitting in the grass with his head in his hands. A blonde woman walking toward the burning car was weeping and
shouting for people to rescue the driver of the burning car, Tuttle said.
Tuttle said the woman was screaming, "Help him, help him, the car is burning and it's going to blow up. I know I was driving pretty fast but my
mother is in the hospital."
Stuart testified she doesn't know the kind of car that hit the Lexus. She identified Howell as the "rather hysterical" tall blonde woman who was standing by the burning car screaming for someone to get the driver
She also testified she heard her say, 'I know I was going too fast, but my mother is in the hospital and I need to get to her.'
After the hearing, Masterson said the prosecution has more evidence against Howell that will be presented at the preliminary hearing. A date for the hearing will be set Sept. 19.
-Bay City News