Saying the defendant had apparently "targeted" a motorcyclist, a judge on Monday ordered an Imperial Beach woman to stand trial on a murder charge for what prosecutors say was an act of road rage.
Darla Renee Jackson, 25, is accused of causing the death of Zacharias Buob, a 39-year-old Navy chief petty officer, in a May 28 collision on a South County freeway. She sobbed in the courtroom when she heard the judge's ruling.
According to testimony presented over two days in Chula Vista Superior Court, Jackson and Buob got into a dispute on northbound Interstate 5 near E Street before driving ontostate Route 54.
Prosecutors contend that Jackson, who was driving a Nissan Altima, chased after Buob, who was riding a Ducati motorcycle, then crashed into the bike, causing the rider to fall to the ground. Her car then ran him over as she swerved to miss the motorcycle, witnesses said.
He died at a hospital.
The defense lawyer said Jackson pursued Buob's motorcycle only so they could exchange information after he kicked her car, and argued there may be enough evidence to support a manslaughter charge or something less than that, but not second-degree murder.
Judge Ana Espana said she was not ignoring the motorcyclist's "role in this tragic event," but it was Jackson who "chose to drive dangerously and recklessly in pursuit of Mr. Buob."
Before making her ruling, the judge outlined each of the elements of a second-degree or "implied malice" murder, including whether Jackson's actions caused Buob's death, and whether she acted with a conscious disregard for human life.
Citing witness testimony, the judge said the dispute began when Jackson passed Buob on the freeway -- both vehicles were in the fast lane -- which appeared to upset the motorcyclist. He made gestures at her, shaking his head and possibly raising a hand to flip her a middle finger.
Jackson swerved her car toward Buob's motorcycle, causing him to "flinch." This apparently occurred before and after Buob pulled next to the Nissan and kicked the passenger side door, witnesses said.
Buob then crossed over three lanes of traffic toward the off ramp to state Route 54 with Jackson following, at speeds between 75 mph and 85 mph, according to the testimony.
"She's on his tail," Espana said Monday morning. She noted that one witness thought at one point that Jackson's car was touching the motorcycle.
A California Highway Patrol investigator testified that Jackson's car was traveling 93 mph on the transition ramp seven seconds before the crash. Buob, who was ahead of the Nissan, eventually had to slow down because of traffic, witnesses said.
Deputy District Attorney Laura Evans presented evidence, through a CHP officer, that an ex-boyfriend of Jackson's saw news reports of the fatal crash and called authorities to report that Jackson had swerved her car in his direction on the freeway on previous occasions.
The boyfriend, who said he dated Jackson five years ago, said he was with his new girlfriend at a gas station on one occasion when he saw Jackson looking at him and revving her car. He said he ignored her and she eventually drove away.
Defense attorney Stephen Cline had asked the judge to not consider that information, saying investigators know little about those accusations or the man who made them, but the judge decided to hear the testimony.
Brad Clinkscales, the CHP officer who spoke to the boyfriend by phone, also interviewed Jackson hours after the crash. The officer testified that Jackson told him she did not intend to hit Buob, but wanted to get the license plate number from his motorcycle.
The plate was difficult to see because of how it was mounted.
Jackson's trial was set for January.