Judge denies motion to withdraw guilty plea of driver accused in fatal Poway crash

SAN DIEGO - A judge on Friday denied a motion to withdraw the guilty plea of a man who admitted that he was high on methamphetamine when he ran a red light and crashed into a Poway fire truck last June, killing a 19-year-old passenger in his car.

Robbie Dean Gillespie, 45, pleaded guilty last September to gross vehicular manslaughter while under the influence of drugs and possession of methamphetamine.

Sentencing is scheduled Monday before South Bay Judge Dwayne Moring.

Gillespie's attorney, Bonita Martinez, said her client should have been able to withdraw his plea because he had a history of mental illness and suffers from obstructive sleep apnea.

Martinez said doctors recommended that Gillespie should not drive, but he wasn't told that.

"As a result of the severe obstructive sleep apnea, he was actually rendered unconscious during that unfortunate incident that occurred in the collision with the fire truck," Martinez said earlier this month.

Gillespie was arrested last Aug. 1 at his home in the 12000 block of Alta Carmel Court in Rancho Bernardo for the death of Evelyn Courtney, an aspiring fashion model.

Deputy District Attorney Dan Link said Gillespie was arrested two days before the fatal crash for having 1.8 grams of meth in a Poway hotel room. Two men and two women, 18 and 19 years old, were also in the room. Gillespie bailed out of jail the next morning and admitted using meth and marijuana while free, Link said.

On June 20 about 4 a.m., Gillespie got in a car with Courtney, whom he described as a friend, and was under the influence of meth when he ran a red light and his car collided with a fire truck going about 40 mph. Courtney died at the scene. Gillespie was freed from the wreckage and hospitalized.

Gillespie was arrested but not charged until a traffic investigation was completed. In interviews with news outlets, Gillespie said he was taking Courtney home when the accident happened.

An open alcoholic beverage container was found in Gillespie's Honda Accord, sheriff's deputies said.

Gillespie faces a sentence ranging from probation to a maximum of 10 years and eight months in prison, Link said.

The victim's parents filed a claim with the city of Poway -- the first step before a lawsuit can be filed against a government agency -- alleging the firefighter who was driving the fire engine that morning hadn't yet passed a test qualifying him to operate the vehicle.

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