SAN JOSE -- Prosecutors have charged a serial DUI offender with murder in the death of a pedestrian he hit last weekend while allegedly driving drunk in East San Jose, citing his six prior convictions as evidence of "reckless disregard for human life," authorities said Friday.
Police do not believe 55-year-old Rickey Lartigue meant to kill 43-year-old Willy Umali, but prosecutors decided his six prior DUI convictions spanning from 1983 to 1995 made him keenly aware of the dangers of drunken driving. In light of that history, they felt compelled to pursue what is known as a Watson murder charge that applies in those circumstances.
"He knew it was dangerous. He had been warned because he had multiple convictions," Assistant District Attorney Marc Buller said. "With that knowledge he still continued to drink and drive, which shows reckless disregard for human life."
Because he had two grandchildren in the minivan, prosecutors also charged him with two counts of felony child endangerment.
Lartigue, of San Jose, was driving a 2003 Kia minivan north on Leeward Avenue the evening of Aug. 17 when he passed an apartment complex where he was headed, according to a police statement of facts.
He stopped the vehicle and put it in reverse, and while backing up he hit Umali, who was walking across Leeward. The minivan was moving fast enough that Umali was thrown 15 feet from the point of impact, police said.
Umali was taken to a hospital, where he died the next day.
When officers arrived at the collision site, they found two of Lartigue's grandchildren, ages 3 and 1, inside the minivan, and learned that he was on the way to pick up a third.
Lartigue refused to perform any field-sobriety exercises, but a breath test indicated he had a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.125 percent, well above the .08 percent legal limit, according to police. When he gave another sample three minutes later, it actually rose to 0.134 percent.
He was initially arrested on suspicion of felony DUI and booked into the Santa Clara County Jail.
The reclassification of the traffic fatality makes it the city's 32nd homicide of the year.
Contact Robert Salonga at 408-920-5002. Follow him at Twitter.com/robertsalonga.