Motorist accused of fatally hitting toddler pleads not guilty

VISTA (CNS) – A motorist accused of hitting and killing a toddler on a North County roadside pleaded not guilty Thursday to four misdemeanor charges, including vehicular manslaughter, but won't face any alcohol-related counts.

Agustin Garcia Morales, 33, was arrested Monday, three days after the fatal accident on a driveway in front of his Encinitas Boulevard apartment, sheriff's Sgt. Anthony O'Boyle said.

Deputy District Attorney Stephen Marquardt said that police on the scene asked Morales to submit to a preliminary alcohol-screening test, but didn't do any further tests.

“The defendant blew a .029 (percent) when he submitted to that test,'' Marquardt said. That reading is below the legal blood-alcohol limit of 0.08 percent.

Though Morales was initially booked on a DUI count, “the people have reviewed the case and do not believe that the current state of the evidence supports such a charge,'' Marquardt said.

The prosecutor said Morales was driving negligently at the time of the accident, but not recklessly or under the influence.

Marquardt called Morales a flight risk because the Mexican national presented fraudulent identification to police and immigration officials at the scene of the accident. The prosecutor said the defendant is in the United States illegally and has been deported once before.

Judge Marshall Hockett set bail at $75,000, but said it was a moot point because Morales has an immigration hold against him.

Morales was on his way to work shortly before 7:30 a.m. last Friday when his Toyota Camry hit 3-year-old Juan Andres Ruiz of Encinitas as the boy walked with his mother, who was pushing his sibling in a stroller.

The child wound up pinned beneath the sedan. Morales and a bystander pulled him out, and medics took the child to Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla, where he was pronounced dead shortly after arrival. Morales' attorney, Peter Liss, said that his client, who works as a dog trainer, is not a flight risk and said Morales did everything humanly possible to try to save the child's life.

“He (Morales) is really distraught over what happened,'' Liss said. “It truly was an accident.''

Besides vehicular manslaughter, Morales is charged with two misdemeanor counts of presenting false identification to a peace officer and one misdemeanor count of driving without a license. The defendant faces two-and-a- half years in jail if convicted.

Morales will be back in court Dec. 3 for a readiness conference. Trial was set for Jan. 16.

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