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Home News Latest Former sheriff’s deputy charged with manslaughter for fatal October 2013 crash

Former sheriff’s deputy charged with manslaughter for fatal October 2013 crash

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James Scott Lewis, 54, of Herndon, Va., a former sheriff's deputy in Lake County, Calif., was arraigned on Tuesday, February 10, 2015, in Lakeport, Calif., on a felony charge of gross vehicular manslaughter for a fatal October 2013 crash that occurred while he was on duty. Lake County Jail photo.

LAKEPORT, Calif. – On Tuesday a former Lake County Sheriff’s deputy was arraigned on a felony charge of gross vehicular manslaughter for an October 2013 crash that killed a Clearlake woman.

James Scott Lewis, 54, briefly appeared in Lake County Superior Court before retired Judge Arthur Mann Tuesday morning.

Lewis is facing the one manslaughter count in connection to the October 2013 death of 26-year-old Gabriela Rivas Garcia, which resulted from a crash that occurred while Lewis was on duty.

During his appearance, Lewis entered a not guilty plea to the vehicular manslaughter charge.

Prosecutor John Langan asked the court to set the matter over until March 10 for further proceedings, as he noted that there's a lot of discovery that the defense needs to go through, including grand jury transcripts.

Langan also noted that there was a $100,000 warrant for Lewis' arrest, and he agreed to release Lewis on his own recognizance if he agreed to report to the jail to be booked, which Lewis agreed to do.

Mann scheduled the case to return to court on March 10, and also accepted a waiver of Lewis' personal presence at upcoming court appearances submitted by Lewis' attorney.

After his court appearance, Lewis reported to the Lake County Jail where he was booked and released.

Just before 6:30 a.m. on Oct. 3, 2013, Garcia was driving on Highway 29 from her Clearlake home to her job as a vineyard worker in Kelseyville when she was hit head-on by Lewis, who was responding to the Lower Lake area on the report of a home invasion robbery and vehicle pursuit.

Lewis was driving his patrol vehicle – a 2009 Chevrolet Tahoe SUV – with his lights on and traveling at a high rate of speed when he crossed into the northbound lane, hitting Garcia’s 1995 Honda.

Also injured in the crash was a since-retired county correctional officer, Bill Eagleton, who was driving a 1997 Geo behind Garcia. Lewis’ SUV overturned and hit the front of the Geo, with Eagleton sustaining minor injuries.

Garcia died at the scene. Lewis had major injuries and was flown to an out-of-county trauma center.

Grand jury convened in case

On July 17, a criminal grand jury indicted Lewis on the gross vehicular manslaughter charge, according to District Attorney Don Anderson.

Anderson said that when he began the grand jury proceedings, he didn't yet have the extensive report on the crash conducted by the California Highway Patrol's Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team, or MAIT.

He said that report determined that Lewis was driving at more than 80 miles per hour when the crash occurred.

Shortly after the indictment was handed down, the felony $100,000 warrant for Lewis' arrest was issued, Anderson said. The warrant amount was based on the normal bail schedule.

Lewis was hired by the Lake County Sheriff’s Office in 2001. He was on a reservist deployment in Virginia from 2007 to 2012.

He left the county’s employ in November, according to information Lake County News received from the Lake County Human Resources Department as part of a California Public Records Act request.

Since the indictment, Anderson’s office has been working with Lewis – who left the county and moved to Virginia – to return to Lake County to allow the court proceedings to move forward.

Anderson said there was some difficulty in arranging for Lewis to return, based on the medical issues he now has as a result of the crash. Those made it difficult for him to fly.

Lewis finally was cleared by a doctor to travel, clearing the way for Tuesday’s arraignment to take place, Anderson said.

During his court appearance, Lewis walked with a heavy limp as the result of his crash injuries.

As for whether Lewis will remain in California for the ongoing proceedings, “I don’t know what his plans are,” Anderson said.

Anderson said some of Lewis’ court proceedings, with the permission of the court, may not require him to be present, and that was confirmed on Tuesday with Lewis' attorney submitting the waiver to allow for him to not personally appear at some hearings.

Related civil, criminal cases ongoing

Last April, Garcia’s parents – who live in Mexico, and who she had helped support with her job in Lake County – filed a lawsuit against the county, Lewis and a number of other codefendants.

The lawsuit is set for jury trial in June, according to court records.

The attorney for Garcia’s family, Jeremy Fietz, did not immediately respond to a request from Lake County News for comment on the case’s status.

The suit alleges that Lewis had alcohol in his system when he was involved in the crash.

Using grand jury testimony given in January 2014 in the case against the four people charged for the home invasion to which Lewis was responding on the morning of the crash, the civil case alleges that Lewis had a blood alcohol level of at least 0.01 percent nearly two hours after the crash. Garcia’s family alleges that it was closer to 0.04 or 0.05 at the time the crash occurred.

Anderson said the investigation did find that Lewis had a “very, very small amount” of alcohol in his system when he was tested after the crash.

In contrast to what Garcia's family is alleging, Anderson said his experts said they can't extrapolate what Lewis’ exact blood alcohol level would have been at the time the crash occurred, because once blood alcohol reaches the 0.01 level, alcohol doesn't dissipate from the bloodstream at the normal rate – which at higher levels is 0.02 per hour.

Lewis is not the only person charged with a crime in connection to Garcia’s death.

The four defendants in the October 2013 home invasion – Clearlake residents James Robert Conaster, 39; Jesse Gilbert Moncivaiz, 30; Angelita Jeanette Raffa, 29; and Lauren Astor Faumuina, 21, of Middletown – all were indicated for murder for the young woman’s death in January 2014, as Lake County News has reported.

They’re charged under the “felony murder” theory, which allows for suspects in a dangerous felony to be charged with murder if someone is killed during the commission of the crime – even if the death is accidental or unintentional.

All four of those individuals have remained in the Lake County Jail since their arrests, with bail set at $1 million each.

The defendants all have a March court appearance – for a settlement conference – in the case, according to court records.

Email Elizabeth Larson at elarson@lakeconews.com . Follow her on Twitter, @ERLarson, or Lake County News, @LakeCoNews.

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 11 February 2015 02:10 )