Prosecutors allege that a driver arrested after what appeared to be a road rage incident on State Route 78 tried to use his car as a weapon to strike the other driver.
Andrew Carson Branch, 23, of Escondido pleaded not guilty in court Friday to charges that he used his vehicle as a deadly weapon in the Feb. 15 confrontation on SR-78 near College Boulevard.
The incident was caught on camera and shared on social media by another driver. Video appears to show a man identified as 33-year-old Kevin McCall of Vista appear to spit into the window of a Ford Escape, being driven by Branch.
Then, in the video, the Ford Escape moves forward and sideswipes the BMW, tipping over onto its side as a result.
"In this case, the defendant personally used his vehicle as a deadly weapon to commit the assault," a prosecutor said Friday.
Defense Attorney Mark Deniz argues that charges were only filed against Branch after the video began spreading on social media.
"You saw the video," Deniz said. "This incident happened over a week ago and at the time police never filed charges until the video came out.
“We think it is a knee-jerk reaction to the video."
The defense also argues that Branch was not attempting to strike McCall but instead was trying to get away from the confrontation.
Branch's father, James Branch, said the defendant was fearful for his life.
"[McCall] walks back to the car, knowing in this day and age when someone walks back to the car they could come back with a gun, they could come back with anything,” James Branch said. "He didn’t try to run over anybody he was trying to get away."
After the confrontation, McCall left the scene.
CHP officer Hope Maxson said police initially believed it was a hit and run when they arrived to find the Ford in the center median and the BMW no longer at the scene.
Deniz said McCall's act of leaving the scene shows consciousness of guilt.
CHP recommended charges against both drivers, misdemeanor charges for McCall but the San Diego County District Attorney's Office has not yet acted on the recommendation.
The prosecutor said the status of the other driver remains under investigation.
Branch faces up to four years in prison if convicted of felony assault with a deadly weapon. He is out on $30,000 bail.
"He’s being blamed for what is a human reaction – a fight or flight response," the defendant's brother, James Branch said after the arraignment hearing. "I don’t think there was malicious intent behind what he did at all."