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Morse pleads not guilty to charges in deadly DUI crash

SANTA ROSA -- It's been almost two weeks since 25-year-old Vanessa King was in a car collision that killed her friend Alexander Ruiz, but the grim reminders of that terrible day remain.

Case in point: her arm's still in a sling from wounds suffered during that crash.

King and members of Ruiz's family were among those who watched in court Thursday as 18-year-old Dylan Morse entered his plea on charges for allegedly causing that crash: not guilty.

California Highway Patrol investigators believe Morse was intoxicated the night his 1998 Volvo broadsided a 1988 Honda driven by Ruiz. Ruiz was killed in the Feb. 14 crash, while his passenger, King, suffered a broken arm and other injuries.

Ryne Spitzer, the 19-year-old Sonoma State University student who was the passenger in Morse’s car, is in fair condition at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, according to Katy Hillenmeyer, a spokesperson for the hospital.

Wearing a somber frown, Morse, who is the son of Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II, stood silently in court Thursday as his attorney, Chris Andrian, entered the plea.

During the hearing, Andrian had asked Judge Elliot Lee Daum for additional time to enter a plea, saying that he wanted to review more evidence in the case. Daum denied Andrian's request, saying that Morse must enter his plea.

Andrian said he still has to review a recorded interview between Morse and California Highway Patrol investigators, conducted after the collision. "This is a very painful situation," Andrian said. "And it's going to take some time."

King and Ruiz's father, Michael Ruiz, left quietly after the hearing and declined comment.

Cindy Morse, the defendant's mother, sat in the audience with Jeff Leis, pastor of Yosemite Church in Merced. She said her son remains "devastated" about the collision, adding that she hopes the case will be resolved "as early as possible," particularly for the sake of the victims' families. "There’s a lot of healing that needs to go on for everyone," she said.

Leis said his son, 19-year-old Kyle, has also been deeply affected by the tragedy. Kyle shared a dorm room with Spitzer at Sonoma State. "He's at the hospital praying every day," Leis said.

Larry Morse, who spoke by telephone but was not in court Thursday, said his thoughts continue to be with the victims and their families.

"As nightmarish as this has been for us, we are aware that this has been incalculably worse for the Spitzer and Ruiz families," Morse said. He added that "(Dylan), as well as we, will accept whatever consequences come his way."

CHP investigators reported that the collision happened at 2:20 a.m. at the intersection of Stony Point Road and Highway 116 near Cotati. Morse was driving southbound on Stony Point Road and passed through a red light, the CHP reported. He collided with Ruiz's car, according to the CHP, and the impact sent both cars into a nearby field.

Ruiz, an Oakland resident, was pronounced dead at the scene. His passenger, King, suffered facial lacerations, a broken arm and a broken collar bone.

Spitzer, the passenger in Morse's car, was injured with major head trauma. Morse wasn't injured.

Morse is facing felony charges of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, driving under the influence and causing bodily injury to another person and causing bodily injury while driving with blood alcohol concentration at or above 0.08 percent.

He faces up to 15 years in prison, if convicted of the charges. He remains at the Sonoma County Jail in lieu of $180,000 bail.

Morse's next court appearance is scheduled for March 6.

Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsun-star.com.

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