Sept. hearing set in fatal Vegas CHP officer crash

AP News
Posted: Aug 21, 2013 1:13 PM
Sept. hearing set in fatal Vegas CHP officer crash

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A defense lawyer for a man accused of killing an off-duty California Highway Patrol officer and his relative in the Las Vegas crash of the officer's stolen pickup said Wednesday there's more to the story than has been told so far.

But attorney Michael Becker said outside court that he's not talking anymore about the case against James Robert Montgomery until he sees evidence police have collected since the Sunday morning crash.

"This case, I think there's more to it than meets the surface," Becker said.

Montgomery, 29, from Tustin, Calif., stood shackled in court with a bandage on the right side of his head, and spoke only to acknowledge that he received and understood the eight felony charges against him, including murder, kidnapping, burglary, robbery and auto theft. He was not asked to enter a plea.

Prosecutor Robert Daskas said police were still investigating the crash that killed veteran CHP Officer Jesus Manuel Magdaleno Jr. and Magdaleno's brother-in-law, Felix Brandon Cruz III.

Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Cynthia Cruz scheduled a status check Aug. 27 and a preliminary hearing Sept. 4.

Montgomery is being held without bail at the Clark County jail, but Becker said he may file a written request for the judge to set bail.

A couple who identified themselves as Montgomery's parents were in court but left afterward without speaking with reporters.

Becker said Montgomery works at a Whole Foods supermarket in Tustin and was a "lawful person" who was injured and shaken by the incident. The attorney said his client had been in Las Vegas with his girlfriend and her children, and had been staying at another hotel on the Strip.

Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson said the case was receiving the full attention of his office. The charges against Montgomery could make him eligible for the death penalty, but a decision about that is weeks away.

Police say Magdaleno, 33, and Cruz, 31, both from Visalia, Calif., had been in Las Vegas for Magdaleno's bachelor party, and were loading Magdaleno's pickup with luggage at the Flamingo hotel-casino when Montgomery got into the driver's seat and drove the vehicle away from the valet area.

Magdaleno ran after the pickup, shouting that he was a CHP officer and jumping into the cargo bed with Cruz, according to security video and witness accounts cited by police. The video hasn't been made public.

The pickup sped away from the Strip, mowing down construction cones and speeding through red lights on an Interstate 15 overpass, a woman who viewed the scene from the 17th floor of a nearby hotel told police.

Police said Magdaleno and Cruz were thrown from the bed of the pickup when it collided with an SUV and smashed into a traffic signal pole in front of the Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino, about a mile west of the Flamingo.

Magdaleno was an eight-year CHP patrol and training officer. He was to be married in September.

Montgomery told police afterward that he remembered walking around the Flamingo and being in a car crash, but couldn't remember anything in between, according to an arrest report.

Police said he was seen speaking with a taxi driver before climbing into the driver's seat of Magdaleno's pickup.


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