The trial for a San Diego man accused of driving drunk in a crash on Interstate 805 that killed three of his passengers began Wednesday with a prosecutor discussing the defendant’s reckless attitude.
“Alcohol. Marijuana. A reckless, dangerous, and aggressive attitude. A very dangerous combination,” said Deputy District Attorney Mackenzie Harvey in her opening statement.
Harvey was referring to defendant William Cady, 26, a man facing 12 charges in connection with the deadly Jan. 10, 2014, DUI collision, including gross vehicular manslaughter and first-degree murder.
Harvey is pursuing a conviction on the first-degree murder counts, as she said Cady drank alcohol and smoked marijuana on the night of the accident fully knowing he was going to get behind the wheel of his Cadillac Escalade loaded with five of his friends.
“[He] turned that Escalade into a weapon and that night turned deadly,” Harvey continued.
The DUI rollover happened along Interstate 805 at State Route 52 near Clairemont after a night of drinking and bar-hopping amongst the six friends.
Harvey said the group of men allegedly consumed a large amount of alcohol, so much so that a waitress at one of their stops told them they shouldn’t be driving. The men were also kicked out of a second bar for “being too rowdy” that night, according to the prosecutor.
The six men left that second bar in Cady’s Escalade, with Cady driving. As they traveled on I-805, Harvey said Cady sped up and allegedly refused to slow down, despite requests from his friends to take the speed down a notch.
“He accelerated, he laughed and he said, ‘I will drive this car any way that I want,’” Harvey said in her opening statement.
Minutes later, at around 11:15 p.m., Cady lost control of his vehicle and crashed as he tried to merge from I-805 onto SR-52 at a high speed.
The Escalade veered off the road and careened up an embankment, where the car then plowed into a cement pillar and rolled over multiple times, ultimately coming to a halt in traffic lanes.
Harvey said the vehicle was traveling between 87 and 97 mph when it hurled through the air.
From there, California Highway Patrol said a chain reaction-style collision followed, with a silver Acura crashing into the SUV. Moments later, another vehicle slammed into the Acura, then traveled down the embankment across both directions of traffic on eastbound SR-52, eventually landing on the south side of the road. A third vehicle was also involved in the subsequent chain reaction collisions.
Four of the passengers were ejected from Cady’s vehicle. Four of the men were not wearing their seatbelts.
Two of those men – San Diego residents Taylor Bernardski, 29, and Shon Gilliam, 23 – died at the scene. Another occupant, Jeffrey Becker, 35, who was wearing his seatbelt, was also pronounced dead at the site of the DUI crash.
“Taylor Bernardski and Shon Gilliam were ejected out of that Cadillac Escalade early on when that vehicle began to flip. The two of them struck this cement pillar that holds up the I-805,” Harvey said. “They struck that pillar with such force, such velocity, that their bodies were destroyed internally. They’re actually imprinted – their shoes, their bodies, their heads – on this cement pillar.”
Cady was seriously injured and taken to a local hospital. According to Harvey, when officials arrived at the scene of the crash, Cady was still inside his car, strapped to the driver’s seat.
Cady was hospitalized with serious injuries.
Harvey said that when investigators went to the hospital to speak with Cady, they could smell the strong, cinnamon odor of Fireball Whisky still lingering on his breath.
The other two passengers ejected from Cady’s vehicle sustained serious injuries and were also transported to local hospitals. Two occupants inside the other cars involved in the chain reaction collisions suffered minor injuries.
Harvey said this deadly crash was not Cady’s first offense having to do with alcohol. She said he was convicted in a 2007 misdemeanor case “involving violence after he consumed alcohol.”
After that conviction, the prosecutor said a judge told Cady he “can’t afford to have alcohol” in his life, and Cady claimed he understood this.
“The defendant had been warned,” said Harvey. “It couldn’t have been more clear coming from a judge to this defendant.”
Harvey also said Cady crashed his car into a guardrail in June 2012 in a speeding incident with friends.
Though the prosecutor is asking for murder convictions in Cady’s trial, his defense attorney is fighting for convictions on the gross vehicular manslaughter charges.
He admits Cady was negligent and was speeding at the time of the deadly crash.
“Mr. Cady sits here today knowing that his negligence killed three of his friends, severely injured two others and himself,” Cady’s attorney said in his opening statement. “He’s responsible for gross vehicular manslaughter. Not murder. There is a difference.”
The defense attorney said Cady was driving fast but lost control when he tried to overcorrect on the freeway as he tried to turn onto SR-52.
“He did not appreciate the risk he was taking going into that turn. When he tried to correct his car, he lost control,” explained the attorney.
The defense said four of the passengers weren’t wearing their seatbelts, but Cady and one passenger did have their seatbelts on.
The two surviving passengers are slated to testify in Cady’s trial, as well as witnesses who came upon the wreckage after Cady's Escalade flipped.
Camilly Berardi, a bartender who served Cady and his friends at The Skybox bar in Clairemont on the night of the crash, took the stand Wednesday describing how she had asked the "rambunctious" group to leave. She said she even offered to connect them with an Uber driver that could've given them a safe ride home.
"I offered them ride services," she said. "I didn't want them hitting and killing my friends."
Berardi said the men were "visibly" intoxicated and acting "a little bit rowdy." Berardi said the men were drinking rum and coke cocktails, beers and shots of Fireball Whisky at the bar.
Witnesses Brandon Barnett and Charles Mokhtarzadeh also testified. A car in which they were riding that night was involved in the chain reaction crash after Cady's vehicle rolled.
Barnett said one of Cady's surviving passengers borrowed his cellphone to call family members and kept telling Barnett he had gone through the windshield of the Escalade.
Mokhtarzadeh said when he approached the Escalade to check on any survivors he could see Cady, conscious, and moaning in the driver's seat.
A California Highway Patrol officer was also called to the stand Wednesday, leading to very tense, emotionally-charged moments in the courtroom.
That officer described, in detail, the carnage of the accident and how one of the victims died while in his arms.
“I could see a body in the roadway,” the officer recalled. “I did not get a pulse. I looked at the person’s face. It was flushed. [There was] nothing I could do.”
“He said, ‘Don’t leave me. I don’t want to die,’” the officer said. “His arms moved less and his chest took a breath for the last time.”
Graphic photos of the victims were shown at this time. Amid the vivid testimony, the victims’ family members wept in the courtroom and some of them had to remove themselves from the gallery.
The CHP officer recalled seeing Cady and a surviving passenger having a hard time breathing and said the wreckage was a truly horrific sight.
“I could hear a gurgling and thrashing sound of blood,” he added.