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By Felix Adamo / The Californian
BY JASON KOTOWSKI Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Anna Marie Reynosa’s failure to obey traffic laws — including not texting while driving — despite three speeding tickets and repeated warnings from law enforcement resulted in the death of a motorcyclist and calls for a conviction of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, prosecutors said during opening arguments Friday.
Reynosa’s trial is unique for Kern County in that it’s the first time a motorist has been charged with vehicular manslaughter in connection with texting while driving.
Prosecutor Esther Schlaerth told the jury Reynosa was speeding, ran a stop sign and was texting someone at the time of the April 14, 2012 crash that killed 20-year-old Charla Wilkins.
Reynosa’s Toyota Tacoma struck Wilkins’ motorcycle from behind with such force the bike remained upright and pinned under the truck as it was pushed more than 300 feet, Schlaerth said. Wilkins suffered numerous severe injuries, including a severed spine — commonly known as an internal decapitation.
Deputy Public Defender Ernest Hinman told the jury the prosecution will fail in its attempts prove vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence beyond a reasonable doubt for two reasons: It can’t prove Reynosa was driving at an excessive speed, and it can’t prove she was drafting a text at the time of the crash.
“This case is a tragedy, and this accusation my client faces is heinous,” Hinman said.
Reynosa faces up to six years in prison if convicted.
One of the first witnesses called by the prosecution was 33-year-old Mindy Cox, one of Wilkins’ siblings. Cox, fighting back tears, said she’d been following her sister the night of the crash after the two left a friend’s house.
She lost sight of Wilkins and came upon the intersection where the crash had just occurred. Cox said at first she didn’t see Wilkins or her motorcycle, only a helmet lying in the roadway.
Then she saw her sister’s body. She said she and a correctional officer performed CPR on Wilkins until paramedics arrived.
Bakersfield police said in reports the then-20-year-old Reynosa was driving about 20 mph over the posted 45-mph speed limit and constantly fiddling with her cellphone just before the crash. She gave numerous conflicting statements to officers.
At one point Reynosa said she was texting a friend before the crash, police said. She later changed her story and said she doesn’t remember much about what happened before hitting the motorcycle.
Wilkins was stopped at a stop sign at the intersection of Jewetta Avenue and Reina Road in northwest Bakersfield when Reynosa slammed into her, police said. Police estimate Reynosa was driving between 63 to 68 mph.
Reynosa’s cellphone showed a partly drafted text message to someone named Nick following a call she made to another person and a text she received from her boyfriend at 8:32 p.m., police reports say. The crash happened minutes after she received that text message.
The partial message reads “Hey can ...”, the reports say.
Police cited Reynosa for speeding three times between Jan. 6 and April 9, 2012. The fatal crash came just five days after she’d received her most recent ticket.
The trial continues Monday.