SAN DIEGO - A motorist who was allegedly drunk when his vehicle struck and killed a Lyft driver on state Route 94 in San Diego pleaded not guilty Wednesday to murder and other felony charges.
Steven Quintero, 24, was ordered by Superior Court Judge Robert O'Neill to remain in custody in lieu of $3 million bail.
Deputy District Attorney Cally Bright told reporters that the murder count was warranted because a previous driving under the influence charge was filed against the defendant last November, and because he allegedly left the scene of the crash early Saturday that claimed the life of Henry Reyes of Escondido.
The 41-year-old aspiring dentist and his three female passengers were pulled over on the shoulder of the eastbound lanes, just west of the 28th Street off-ramp, because one of the women began vomiting -- and a car slammed into his vehicle from behind.
Quintero and a passenger allegedly fled, but were caught nearby, according to the California Highway Patrol.
Reyes, who died at the scene, leaves behind a 2-year-old child. The women were hurt, one seriously, according to Bright.
In addition to murder, Quintero is charged with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, DUI causing injury, driving on a suspended license and driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 or more. 10News has learned that the DMV has no record of Quintero having a California driver's license.
Bright did not specify his actual blood-alcohol level at the time of the crash.
The murder charge was the fifth filed in a drunken driving case in the last five weeks in San Diego County, reflecting a disturbing recent uptick in the number of DUI-related fatalities, according to the prosecutor.
"People really have no idea how much alcohol they're consuming," Bright told reporters.
She said authorities are also finding a larger number of offenders abusing more than one substance.
Quintero was ordered by the judge to return to court for a status conference on Oct. 13. He faces 29 years to life in behind bars if convicted, according to Bright.
A funeral for Reyes is scheduled for Friday.