January 23, 2013

Man pleads no contest in brother's death; jail unlikely

A 20-year-old Merced man who killed his younger brother in a 2010 car crash probably won't see any jail time, but could end up telling his story to others in an effort to stop them from making similar mistakes.

Nicholas Daniel Saucedo pleaded no contest Wednesday morning to a felony count of gross vehicular manslaughter.

As part of an agreement, two other charges were dropped -- felony operation of a vehicle with willful disregard for safety of persons and property, and misdemeanor reckless driving.

Saucedo declined to comment to the Sun-Star.

Merced County Superior Court Judge Marc Garcia described the incident as behavior that won't be tolerated.

"It's obviously tragic with respect to your little brother being killed, but more importantly, it's an example of egregious and aggravated reckless driving, and the worst happened in this case," Garcia said.

The judge said the crime is known as a "wobbler offense."

If Saucedo follows all the conditions of his probation and doesn't get into any more trouble, he can petition the court to reduce his felony to a misdemeanor, Garcia said. But even "a minor slip-up" can result in more legal trouble.

While Saucedo will probably avoid jail time, probation and community service are likely. Garcia hinted that he may have Saucedo tell his story to teens to prevent similar situations in the future.

"I felt, based on all the circumstances, that jail wasn't going to be particularly productive in your case," Garcia told Saucedo in the courtroom. "But giving testimony to other young people about the dangers of engaging in this type of driving and the results of that is going to be a way more powerful, an educational tool, and something that would benefit the community more."

The 2010 crash happened in the 800 block of East Yosemite Avenue.

Saucedo was driving a Nissan Altima just after 10 a.m. eastbound on Yosemite Avenue at about 75 mph in a 45 mph zone, while another driver was traveling west on Yosemite in a Toyota Camry.

Saucedo swerved and the Altima started to skid sideways into the westbound lane. The Altima crashed head-on into the Camry, and then hit a tree on the north side of Yosemite and broadsided a wall.

Saucedo's 9-year-old brother, Daniel, was ejected from the car and killed when he was pinned between the Altima and the wall. Saucedo's other brother, Richard, suffered several injuries in the crash. None of the three occupants were wearing seat belts.

Toxicology reports show Saucedo wasn't under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Deputy District Attorney Gerad Egan, who prosecuted the case, said there isn't a good reason why Saucedo was driving so fast.

Had the 9-year-old been wearing a seat belt, Egan said, it could have saved his life. "When you drive at this speed in the city limits particularly, obviously, that is very dangerous," he said.

Deputy Public Defender Sean Howard, who represented Saucedo, said his client doesn't have a criminal record and hasn't committed any offenses since the 2010 incident.

Though Saucedo won't be sentenced until Feb. 21, Howard said it is his belief that Wednesday's agreement will keep his client out of jail.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsunstar.com.

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