Amended charges filed against young man accused in fatal freeway race

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – Prosecutors Thursday dropped intoxication allegations
against an 18-year-old man accused of taking part in a freeway race that
resulted in the deaths of two passengers in a teenage friend's car, after a
toxicology report showing no marijuana in the defendant's system.

Michael Sebastian Johnson now faces two counts of gross vehicular
manslaughter and other charges in connection with the crash that took the lives
of 16-year-old Jayli Campbell and 18-year-old Anthony Foreman.

Johnson — who was originally charged with gross vehicular manslaughter
while intoxicated — also faces felony charges of engaging in a speed contest
resulting in injuries and reckless driving, along with possession of marijuana
while driving, an infraction.

The Santana High School graduate was arraigned on the amended charges
today and pleaded not guilty.

Johnson — who remains free on $50,000 bail — will be back in court
June 14 for a readiness conference and Sept. 11 for trial.

At an earlier hearing, Deputy District Attorney Kristen Spieler alleged
the defendant was racing and zigzagging in and out of traffic just before his
friend's car crashed near Convoy Street on April 4 about 11:45 p.m. as they
headed home from a bonfire at La Jolla Shores.

Spieler said Johnson — who stayed at the scene after the crash —
appeared to be under the influence, and a small amount of marijuana was found
in his car.

Six hours after the accident, Johnson showed symptoms of impairment and
had a green substance on his tongue consistent with marijuana use, the
prosecutor alleged during a preliminary hearing in April. An initial lab report
indicated that Johnson could have had marijuana in his system, according to
court testimony.

But defense attorney Russell Babcock argued there was no evidence that
Johnson smoked any marijuana the night of the accident, and he questioned
whether his client could be held legally responsible for the victims' deaths.

“This was not a race,” Babcock told the judge.

The 16-year-old driver of the car that crashed was charged in Juvenile
Court with vehicular manslaughter, but prosecutors seek to have him tried as an
adult. A status conference is set for Tuesday.

California Highway Patrol Officer Art Athans said the younger suspect
was behind the wheel of a Volkswagen Passat, taking four other teenagers home
from the beach party, when he lost control of the sedan, which careened into a
center divider near Convoy Street, struck a bridge pillar and flipped seven
times, end over end.

Two back-seat passengers in the Passat, Campbell and Foreman, were
ejected from the vehicle and died at the scene. The other two passengers, a 17-
year-old boy and a 15-year-old girl, were seriously injured.

The teenage driver, who sustained moderate injuries, was found to have
been sober at the time of the accident.

Johnson, who was driving a Volvo S40 that did not crash, was not
injured, nor were his two passengers.

Babcock said the two drivers left the bonfire at different times, and
Johnson claimed the other driver passed him at high speed just before crashing.

But Spieler said other drivers on the freeway were forced to take
defensive action and one witness saw both cars pass by at 100 mph.

When confronted by officers after the fatal crash, Johnson admitted
racing the other driver, then later denied it, saying he was only going 75 mph,
the prosecutor said.

Spieler said the 16-year-old called Johnson on a cell phone as they were
racing, but Johnson didn't answer.

Judge Robert F. O'Neill said the fact that Johnson changed his story
indicates “a guilty mind.”

Categories: KUSI