Moments before retired Merced County Commissioner Ralph Cook was killed in a possible drunken-driving crash on Highway 99 last year, a witness said the driver — Cook’s girlfriend, Jacqulin Calixtro — was driving erratically, and he believed she may have fallen asleep.
The witness, Edward John Engelhardt, testified Tuesday during Calixtro’s preliminary hearing. Engelhardt said he saw the crash on June 8, 2016, that killed Cook and pulled over to help.
Calixtro, 39, has pleaded not guilty to felony counts of vehicular manslaughter and drunken driving in connection with the deadly crash.
Engelhardt said he didn’t smell alcohol on Calixtro’s breath after the crash and described her as “hysterical.”
Following Tuesday’s hearing, Judge Donald Shaver ordered Calixtro to stand trial.
The 68-year-old Cook, Calixtro’s boyfriend, died when the Mercedes that Calixtro was driving smashed into a guardrail on southbound Highway 99, south of Franklin Road.
The crash occurred about 5 a.m. as Calixtro was driving Cook home from Memorial Medical Center in Modesto. Cook was taken to the hospital about five hours earlier after he suffered a head injury during a fight outside the Kewl Cats Nightclub in Merced, where Calixtro had been drinking.
Officer Angel Fuentes, with the California Highway Patrol, also testified on Tuesday. He questioned Calixtro during the crash investigation and conducted field sobriety tests and breath alcohol tests.
Calixtro’s blew a 0.06 percent on the breath test, below the legal limit of 0.08. After speaking with a forensic alcohol analyst with the Department of Justice, Fuentes believed Calixtro was legally intoxicated when driving to and from the Modesto hospital in the time leading up to the crash.
Calixtro’s defense attorney, Deputy Public Defender Stephanie Jamieson, asked Shaver to reduce the charges to misdemeanors. Jamieson argued the crash was a “freak accident” and Calixtro’s behavior did not amount to felonies, pointing to her client’s otherwise clean record. Shaver denied the request.
“This was an unfortunate accident that tragically resulted in the loss of life,” Jamieson said in a statement to the Sun-Star. “It is a shame that Ms. Calixtro’s grief over the death of Mr. Cook has been compounded by these criminal charges.”
But the prosecutor on the case, Deputy District Attorney Sara Rosenthal, argued that Calixtro’s conduct warranted the more serious felony charges.
“The car didn’t just hit the guard rail, it took out the guard rail,” Rosenthal said. “We’re lucky no one else died or was involved in the collision.”
Cook’s family attended the hearing.
“We’re glad things are proceeding,” said Kelli Mahoney, Cook’s daughter. “We miss my dad a lot. We love him, miss him and care about him.”
Calixtro is due back in court next month. She remains free on bond.
Brianna Calix: 209-385-2477