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Driver charged with vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence

Driver Jose Luis Huerta Mundo, 38, still faces possible deportation.

July 22, 2010|By Joseph Serna, joseph.serna@latimes.com

Hours after friends and family held a memorial service Thursday for a bicyclist killed in a Newport Beach traffic accident last week, prosecutors announced that the driver of the involved truck will be arraigned on manslaughter charges Friday.

Jose Luis Huerta Mundo, 38, is charged with vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence, a misdemeanor, and driving without a valid license. He is accused of turning left illegally on Spyglass Hill Road, a maneuver that caused bicyclist Michael Nine, 43, of Santa Ana, to try and swerve out of the way, hitting Mundo's truck.

The collision occurred at Spyglass Hill and Harbor Ridge Drive, a winding, sloped hill north of Corona del Mar. Nine was riding downhill as part of a morning cycling group when he hit the truck, officials said.

The bicyclist was part of a group of about 40 riders who bike from Tustin through Irvine to Newport Beach and back every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. On July 15, Nine and three other lead riders sailed down a right curve on the street at about 40 mph, said fellow rider Jim Weaver, from Tustin.

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"Normally, it's not problem, but if there's a car stuck in your way on a blind curve, there's not a lot you can do," Weaver said.

Prosecutors said Mundo, a self-employed landscaper, was in the area to do some work and had his truck in the right lane of the street, blocking the riders.

"Our only choices were right, left, or to hit him," Weaver said. "Being there where he was, just a bad spot … it's all things that came together at once. He twists the wrong way and his helmet didn't help."

Authorities said Nine braked hard, lost control and slammed head-first into the rear of Mundo's landscaping truck. He died an hour later at the hospital.

"Do I want him to be put away for 30 years? No," Weaver said of Mundo. "Do I want him to pay for it and know there's consequences for his actions? Yes."

Mundo initially received a ticket for driving without a license, but prosecutors on Wednesday added the manslaughter charge.

Misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter charges arise from "ordinary negligence," or failure to take reasonable care to prevent harming someone else, or doing something a reasonable person wouldn't do.

Felony vehicular manslaughter would involve acting recklessly in a way that has a high chance of causing death and where a reasonable person would know that risk. Their actions would have to be so reckless that, to a normal person, their actions would show a disregard or indifference for human life.

Whether or not he's convicted, Mundo has a hold from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and will be processed for possible deportation after this case concludes, federal authorities said.

Mundo had been deported once before and has a history of driving without a license, according to police and court records.

The group that Nine rode with retired the route they took the day of the crash, Weaver said.

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