Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Grand Rapids', MI "Ridiculously" Drunk Driver on Trial for Murder

Barton Deiters a reporter for the Grand Rapids Press reports on the murder prosecution of Leonel Franco-Avina (pic) who killed local resident Aaron Haynes after stumbling behind the wheel of his pick up truck with a BAC of 0.425 percent.  This is the account from

Death came for the 30-year-old teacher in the pre-dawn hours, from a curvy stretch of the East Beltline at the hands of a man whom authorities say had a blood-alcohol level high enough to make four people legally drunk.  And that is why a jury should convict Leonel Franco-Avina not simply of drunken driving causing death, but of second-degree murder for the head-on collision on Nov. 23 that killed Aaron Haynes, Assistant Kent County Prosecutor James Benison told a jury Tuesday.  It was the opening day of testimony in Franco-Avina's trial in Kent County Circuit Court.

Defense attorney Christine Tober said the state has failed to gather evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that her client committed actions that he should have known could end in someone's death. Tuesday, the jury got to see video of Franco-Avina wandering around the Northland Drive Family Fare Store where he worked overnight in the hours before the fatal crash. It showed him cleaning the floors and spilling water as he tried to work a cleaning machine.

Employees who came into work that morning said Franco-Avina left big puddles throughout the store and did a lousy job cleaning. But none of them said they smelled alcohol on the defendant, and there was nothing on the video that showed him drinking.  But when he left work around 7 a.m., people getting coffee at the Starbucks or eating their Egg McMuffin from the nearby McDonald's say they saw Franco-Avina stumbling and falling down as he walked to his pickup, then drive over a shrub-decorated traffic island before exiting out the entrance of the strip mall parking lot.

Rebecca Kohn said she was driving on the East Beltline not far from Plainfield Avenue NE when she saw a southbound pickup without its headlights on slide into the northbound lanes. Around the same time, Robenna Banfill and her 18-year-old son, Joshua, also saw the wrong-way pickup.

'I said 'Oh my God, he's going to hit someone,'  Robenna Banfill said. 'And a few moments later, a vehicle came over the hill.'

Benison projected pictures taken at the crash scene showing the massive damage done to both vehicles; the engine compartments had collapsed into the cabs of the trucks.  Kent County Sheriff's Deputy Joseph Glynn was the first to arrive on the scene and saw Franco-Avina with his head gushing blood on the blacktop, his feet pointed at the truck's cab roof, trapped in the collapsed vehicle. He checked on Haynes, who was dead.

Kent County Coroner Stephen Cohle said Haynes suffered massive trauma, including a broken neck that killed him instantly. But he also had a ripped aorta that would have killed him if the brain stem trauma had not.

Michigan State Police crash reconstructionist Bruce Cojeen testified the impact of the crash was so violent that the two vehicles lost 45 mph of velocity in one-tenth of a second.

Personnel at Spectrum Health did a blood test on Franco-Avina, showing his blood-alcohol level to be 0.425 percent. A person is considered drunk under state law with a 0.08 percent content.

The prosecutor [said] that to Franco-Avina, whom he said was 'ridiculously intoxicated. This wasn't just drunk driving, this crosses the line,' Benison said."
Terrific reporting of details by the Grand Rapids reporter. 

I don't have an answer but at some point we have to ask why our motor vehicle laws make a distinction between vehicular homicide and murder if alcohol is involved.  Are we "over-criminalizing" drinking and driving?  What was the intention of the legislators when they enacted separate provisions for vehicular homicide, manslaughter and murder 2?    If a person is so impaired by alcohol how does he or she form the requisite mens rea--or do we track back intent to the decision to drink, to drink too much?

I know that alcohol has the effect of "telling the alcoholic" that he or she is "okay" and okay to continue drinking and okay to drive.


  1. Alcohol is one of thing which make people legally drunk. I have caught couple of case in which people had lost their lives and also caught other lives due to alcohol. I wish that Government should ban Alcohol as soon.
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  2. Another situation that seems to be a new phenomenon or at least seems to be gaining traction in the news headlines is women driving while intoxicated with their kids in the car. Weebly DWI site