No Charges Filed Against Man Suspected In Hit-And-Run

Joseph Fernandez, 46, Released From Custody

A man arrested in connection with a hit-and-run crash that killed a bicyclist taking a late-night ride with several friends in Encinitas was released from custody on Thursday night with no charges filed against him.

Bicyclist James Swarzman, 47, of Encino, was struck from behind about 1 a.m. Sunday in the 1200 block of North Coast Highway 101, said sheriff's Sgt. Mark O'Connor.

The driver did not stop, and Swarzman died several hours later at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla.

Joseph Ricardo Fernandez, 46, of Carlsbad, turned himself in to police on Monday, but he did not confess, said O'Connor.

Police said they arrested Fernandez after inspecting his Dodge Ram 1500, which had front-end damage and matched witness descriptions of the vehicle that was driving northbound when Swarzman was struck. He was booked into jail on suspicion of felony hit-and-run.

By law, a suspect must be arraigned on charges within 72 hours, but minutes before Fernandez was to be arraigned, the district attorney canceled it and told 10News Fernandez would be released.

"They have some ethical obligations and the DA's obligation is to make sure that they think they have the right person who did it," said criminal defense attorney Herb Weston, who is not involved in this case.

O'Connor told 10News there was forensic work that still needs to be done to see if the truck Fernandez was driving is the same one that killed Swarzman.

Investigators are waiting to see if pieces of headlight found at the scene of the hit and run crash match Fernandez's truck. If his truck can be linked to the debris left behind, then an arrest warrant could be issued at a later date.

"The DA has to be ready to go," said Weston. "There might be an ongoing investigation that hasn't been finished… knowing who the person is who might have done this accident or what occurred isn't enough."

Weston added, "The district attorney has to be ready to go to a preliminary hearing within 10 days and if they're not, then they have to dismiss the case."

If the truck can be linked to the fatal hit and run, then investigators will have to prove that Fernandez was behind the wheel.

Weston says there are several questions the investigation will try to answer.

"Did he cause the accident? What charges do they want to bring? Is it a vehicular manslaughter or is it a hit and run because the person didn't stop and identify themselves? Did the person know that he hit and ran, because a bicycle sometimes you may or may not know that the bicycle hit your truck," said Weston.

Weston added, "The fact that the district attorney is taking their time should be good as opposed to bad. It should be that they want to make sure that we have the right person… that we have a strong case and we don't lose it because we rushed."

10News learned Fernandez is from the San Francisco Bay Area, where he lives with his wife. He works in construction and is living temporarily in Carlsbad while working on a project in the North County.

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