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Lobdell: Despite tragedy, it's not time to hate

November 15, 2010|By William Lobdell

I wanted to hate Jose Luis Huerta Mundo, the self-employed landscaper accused of making an illegal turn on a blind corner of a steep Newport Beach hill that led to the death of cyclist Michael Nine.

So I went to the Harbor Justice Center in Newport Beach on Monday to catch the trial of Mundo, who faces a misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter charge.

And what's not to hate?

Though the information will be kept from the 12-person jury, Mundo has had five previous driving-related convictions — four because he had no driver's license and another for not registering his vehicle.

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The jurors also won't learn that Mundo, 38, of Anaheim, had been deported before, only to end up back illegally in the United States. He's now facing another deportation (and being held without bail because of his immigration status).

In other words, the jurors will receive no background information that Mundo has shown repeated contempt for the law.

Legally, he should not have been behind the wheel that hot summer morning on July 15. And that's reason alone to despise Mundo.

More fuel for hate is the prosecution's contention that Mundo — when turning left from Harbor Ridge Drive onto the southbound (uphill) lane of Spyglass Hill Road — had to ignore two prominent traffic signs that prohibited the maneuver.

Two cycling buddies of Nine testified Monday that Mundo's white Chevrolet stake-bed landscaping truck had pulled out into the downhill lane of Spyglass and stopped as the bikers rounded the curve at more than 30 mph.

Cyclists in front who managed to pass the vehicle shouted a warning to the rest of the pack: "Truck! Truck!"

But, according to the testimony, as the cyclists braked and swerved, the truck unexpectedly lurched forward toward the center of the two-lane street. Two riders were able to change course and steer clear of the rear of the truck, forcing one of them to go up on the sidewalk to avoid a wreck.

But for Nine — the cyclist nearest the center of the road — it was too late. With the truck suddenly in front of him, he slammed on his brakes, locked up his tires, and slammed body-first into the truck near its rear left wheel. A Newport Beach officer said he found hairs embedded the left back tire.

Nine died at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian shortly afterward. His injuries included two skull fractures, 18 broken ribs and a torn aorta.

The Santa Ana resident was married, a father of two young children, and all of 43.

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