An 18-year-old man who was allegedly racing another young motorist when the other driver crashed on state Route 52, killing two teenage passengers, pleaded not guilty Thursday to five felony charges, including gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
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Michael Sebastian Johnson, a graduate of Santana High School, faces 15 years in state prison if convicted.
Judge David Szumowski allowed Johnson to remain free on $50,000 bail, despite statements from Deputy District Attorney Kristen Spieler that the defendant was racing and zig-zagging in and out of traffic just before his friend's car crashed near Convoy Street on April 4 about 11:45 p.m. as they headed home from a bonfire at La Jolla Shores.
Szumowski refused to increase bail to $250,000 but ordered Johnson to surrender his driver's license and to refrain from driving while the case is pending.
Spieler said Johnson -- who stayed at the scene after the crash -- appeared to be under the influence and a small amount of drugs was found in his car.
"I think obviously, as everyone knows, this is an extremely serious case," Spieler told reporters outside court. "The circumstances couldn't be more dire. And unfortunately it presents an example and a reminder to young people, about the dangers of, first of all driving recklessly, and obviously involving any substance abuse while driving, It's just a horrific, horrific case and there's tragedy on both sides."
The 16-year-old driver of the car that crashed was arrested Thursday on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter and other charges.
The suspect, identified as Zach Bishop, went to the California Highway Patrol's San Diego station on Pacific Highway along with his father about 10 a.m. to turn himself in after being notified that an arrest warrant had been issued for him, CHP public affairs Officer Art Athans said.
Athans said the younger suspect was behind the wheel of a Volkswagen Passat, taking four other teenagers home from the beach party when he lost control of the sedan, which careened into a center divider near Convoy Street, struck a bridge pillar and flipped seven times, end over end.
Two back-seat passengers in the Passat, 16-year-old Jayli Campbell and 18-year-old Anthony Foreman, were ejected from the vehicle and killed. It appeared that neither had been wearing seat belts, Athans said.
Bishop sustained moderate injuries in the crash. His other two passengers, a 17-year-old boy and 15-year-old Charlotte McQuillen, were seriously injured.
Johnson, who was driving a Volvo S40 sedan, was not involved in the crash, and he and his two passengers were uninjured. Bishop was found to have been sober at the time of the accident. A detention hearing is scheduled for Bishop Friday in Juvenile Court.
Russell Babcock, an attorney representing Michael Johnson, said his client was not the driver of the car that crashed and therefore "was not legally or morally responsible for the victims' deaths in any way."
Babcock said he was "surprised" prosecutors decided to bring felony charges against Johnson.
The attorney said Johnson was the designated driver for his group of friends and there was no evidence that he was impaired.
Besides two counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, Johnson was charged with engaging in a speed contest causing injury, reckless driving causing injury and possession of marijuana while driving.
A preliminary hearing for Johnson was set for April 26.
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