A Garden Grove man slumped in his chair and teared up Wednesday as an Orange County jury convicted him of second-degree murder for driving drunk and running down a Seal Beach woman as she pedaled her bicycle on a sidewalk with her son in 2008.
Alex David Trujillo, 45, now faces a 15-years-to-life term at his sentencing on Aug. 20 by Superior Court Judge James Marion.
The seven-man, five-woman jury found him guilty of second-degree murder under the legal theory that he knew driving under the influence was dangerous because of a prior drunken driving conviction but chose to do so anyway.
He claimed that he did not drink alcohol on Oct. 12, 2008, before he ran over Catherine Busse, 46, on Lampson Avenue in Seal Beach shortly before 5 p.m. But he could not explain why he drove straight onto the sidewalk when the road in front of him curved.
Busse was taking an afternoon bike ride on the sidewalk with Sam, her 15-year-old autistic son, when she was struck from behind and fatally injured. Sam was knocked off his bike and slightly injured. Officers found him sitting next to his mother.
Trujillo claimed at the scene that he swerved to avoid the bicyclists, according to witnesses. But when he testified in his own defense he said he did not remember what happened.
Catherine Busse was a “warrior mom” a term given to mothers of autistic children who championed her son’s cause and made sure he stayed active and involved. She was vice president of human resources at American First Credit Union in La Habra and was active in Talk About Curing Autism, a volunteer group.
She was taking her normal Sunday afternoon bike ride with her son when she was struck and killed.
Deputy District Attorney Susan Price introduced evidence during the two-week trial that Trujillo had a blood-alcohol level of .10 an hour after the collision, and had two pain-killers and an anti-depressant in his system. The legal limit for driving in California is .08. Price argued that it would have been impossible for Trujillo to test that high for alcohol had he not been drinking during the hours before the fatal crash.
Defense attorney David Cohn, however, argued that Trujillo was legitimately taking prescription drugs for a variety of health issues, including sleep apnea, and that he did not drink on the day of the crash.
Cohn said Trujillo was aware of the dangers of drinking and driving and would not have climbed behind the wheel had he been under the influence. The defense attorney acknowledged that Trujillo had become intoxicated at a wedding in Big Bear the evening before, but he argued that Trujillo’s blood-alcohol level was less than .08 at the time of the crash.
Several members of Trujillo’s family broke down in tears after the verdict was read, while members of Busse’s family solemnly hugged Price in the court hallway.
“I feel justice was served,” said Ben Busse, Catherine’s widower and a sergeant in the Vernon Police Department. “He took away and very talented and valuable life, to our family, especially our son.”
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