A driver with multiple past DUI convictions who allegedly drank alcohol and was behind the wheel during a fatal crash will not be charged with felonies.
Delhi resident Michael Lindo, 33, pleaded no contest Friday to a misdemeanor charge and was released, according to the Merced County District Attorney's Office. He originally was arrested after being arrested on charges of murder and driving under the influence
Lindo was driving a 2000 Chevrolet Tahoe east on August Avenue at about 30 mph after 9 p.m. on Jan. 23 when the Tahoe hit Jennifer Arroyo, a 17-year-old Delhi girl, as she was walking on the street.
Lindo reportedly sped away from the scene, but then returned later and called 9-1-1, according to investigation reports.
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After taking field sobriety tests and a Breathalyzer test that registered a .05 blood alcohol content about 75 minutes after the crash, Lindo was arrested by California Highway Patrol on suspicion of DUI causing great bodily injury, hit and run resulting in death, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, having multiple DUI convictions and misdemeanors.
Because of Lindo's two prior DUI convictions, he also was arrested on a charge of first degree murder.
But the Merced County District Attorney's Office decided not to charge Lindo with the felony because prosecutors felt the evidence wasn't clear enough to convict him beyond a reasonable doubt, Deputy District Attorney Harold Nutt said.
Lindo still will have to face misdemeanor violation of probation charges on his DUI convictions because those prior convictions were misdemeanors.
The decision, which Arroyo's family and friends learned about this week, was troubling to the Delhi community.
"I have several friends who prayed with me (after the crash)," said Alta Huddleston Harryman, Arroyo's grandmother and legal guardian. "I got peace. Now I hear about (Lindo)."
Supporters in the community held a candlelight vigil and raised money for Arroyo's funeral last week. More fundraisers are planned for this weekend, including a car wash and tamale sale Saturday from 9 a..m. to about 5 p.m. near Schendel Avenue and Stephens Street.
Harryman said Arroyo had dreams of becoming a veterinarian. Family and friends said she was on an independent study program through Denair Charter Academy.
"She was dedicated to church and she was loved," Harryman said near a memorial to Arroyo at the site of the crash.
But now, family and friends of Arroyo are confused, frustrated and upset at Lindo walking free.
Thomas Metzger, a former paid-call firefighter for Merced County Fire, responded to the scene right after the crash and administered CPR to Arroyo.
Metzger told the Sun-Star said he could smell the alcohol on Lindo's breath as he returned after "speeding off" following the collision.
Several others at the memorial for Arroyo commented on the signs that Lindo was drinking.
According to investigation reports, Lindo admitted to drinking about one and a half beers at noon that day. Lindo passed three of the four field sobriety tests given to him, and he failed one test.
Although Lindo's blood alcohol content was below the legal limit of .08 about 75 minutes after the crash, investigators arrested Lindo on the knowledge that the human body's metabolizing rate for alcohol means Lindo likely had a level at or near .08 at the time of the crash.
All of that evidence, Nutt said, wasn't enough to convince the District Attorney's Office that Lindo was impaired beyond a reasonable doubt.
"The CHP operates on a completely different standard than what we do," Nutt said. "Someone can be arrested based on probable cause, but our standard to charge him has to be beyond a reasonable doubt."
CHP Merced Officer Eric Zuniga said authorities at the crash had probable cause to arrest Lindo, and that investigators "report to the best of our ability in hopes of someone being charged."
"I understand the pain and agony the family is feeling," Nutt said. "They want justice to be done. A lot of times people don't understand the burden we have to pass conviction."