The question printed at the top of the page was, “What is the most important thing you learned today?” David Palafox’s handwritten response was: “That drinking and driving can cause death.” It was part of his classes in the Alcohol and Other Drugs program, which is part of the Occupational Health Services program in San Diego County. He attended the classes because it was part of his DUI plea deal.
Another statement by Palafox, in his handwriting, was displayed in court in March 2019. “There were several topics on what would you do, however the one that caught my attention the most was… what would you do if you killed someone when you got your DUI. I really liked that question because it makes really think before you drive intoxicated.”
Palafox was 24 years old when he began taking those DUI education classes in 2013. It took him a couple years to complete the mandatory courses.
In 2018, he killed a man crossing a street in Vista, California. A year after that fatal hit-and-run, a jury declared Palafox guilty of murder. He was 30 years old when he was sent to prison last month, in May of 2019. The judge gave him 15 years to life for second degree murder, plus two more years for hit-and-run causing death. An additional eleven years for gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated was “stayed,” because that prison time was considered legally redundant to the time for murder.
The legal troubles of David Martin Palafox started in January of 2013. One week after his 24th birthday, he got pulled over by a CHP officer. It was a Friday afternoon about 2 pm when the officer clocked him at 91 miles per hour on Interstate 15 in San Bernardino County. The officer noticed a bag of marijuana in his car and smelled alcohol on Palafox. His blood alcohol tested at .12, in California, a person is considered “impaired” at .08. Palafox made a plea deal and was released on probation.
That was when he started taking the DUI education classes, but he was not in a hurry to finish those. He got more incentive to successfully complete his probation requirements after an unfortunate incident at the very end of 2013.
It happened on December 14, 2013. It began on another Friday, very late, and went into very early on a Saturday morning, about 1:00 am. California Highway Patrol officer Jay Sides said he was traveling north on Interstate 5 through Carlsbad. He witnessed a white GMC truck going 90 miles per hour weaving rapidly through lanes and cutting off other cars. The CHP officer caught up to the truck, using his lights and siren, and he followed the truck off the Carlsbad Village Drive exit. After some delay, the truck finally pulled over, but “He fled on foot,” the officer told a jury later. It took two officers to catch and subdue the fleeing suspect, to finally get handcuffs on him. (David Palafox is described as 6 feet 2 inches tall and 185 pounds.) A prosecutor later claimed that one officer suffered a fractured wrist in the melee. Officer Sides later explained, “We did not want to risk him fleeing” so they skipped the field sobriety test — even though officers did notice that David Palafox had slow, slurred speech and he had a strong odor of alcoholic beverages.
This entire incident was negotiated down to “resisting arrest” and driving on a suspended license. The suspected DUI was not charged in that case.
And David Palafox completed the mandated DUI classes, from his previous DUI plea deal, the following year, in 2014.
From DUI to murder
In March of 2018, David Palafox was in a hurry to get home. It was a Friday night and it was already dark at 8:14 p.m. He lived in the community of Vista, in northern San Diego County.
Witnesses said they heard his engine revving, and his white GMC Sierra truck crept forward while he waited at a red light. He was just a few streets away from where he lived, and he waited until the cross traffic cleared, and then he ran the red light.
It was a strange, Y-shaped intersection from which three streets branched out: Palmyra Drive, Estrellita Drive, and Santa Fe Avenue.
A 51-year-old man was walking across Estrellita Drive at one of the street corners. The coroner said his death was probably instantaneous.
First responders said they found a “scuff mark” about 18 feet long, along the road where the body was found. A CHP officer explained that the scuff mark was a “rub mark from a human body.” Another CHP officer said the body of Juan Asuncion Osorio, 51, was found about 100 yards from the point of impact.
Osorio was pronounced dead at the scene. His blood alcohol level was found to be 0.27.
The victim was only a few steps away from the Egg Market, on one corner there. The owner of the market, Marvin Jabro, knew Osorio. Jabro said that Osorio had come to his store three or four times a week over the last five years. The Egg Market sells meat, produce, groceries, and liquor and is open until 10 pm on Fridays. Jabro told a jury later that he first heard a revving engine and then a crash. He went outside and saw his familiar customer in the road and phoned 911. Officers responded quickly, and Marvin showed them surveillance video from his two cameras, and they could see images of a white truck.
And officers found pieces of a GMC truck in the road. There was a red GMC marque, and broken fender pieces.
CHP officers and local deputies familiar with Vista realized that there was only one way in and out of this particular neighborhood. They had hope that they could find the suspect truck still in the area, and they immediately began a house-by-house search.
It took about one hour to find the white 2003 GMC truck. The truck had a dent in the center of its hood, and was missing the GMC marque in the center of the grill. Inside the truck deputies found marijuana, empty Corona beer cans, and probation paperwork. The truck was parked in a gravel driveway less than a quarter-mile from the site of the collision. It was parked in front of a home in the 2200 block of Cherimoya Drive, where David Palafox rented a room.
Palafox’s blood was not tested until three hours after the crash, and the results showed 0.2 percent Blood Alcohol Concentration. An expert said that for a 150-pound male that is “eight to twelve standard drinks.” And they found metabolites for THC, which suggested marijuana use.
Twenty-nine year old Palafox was held in custody in lieu of $150,000 bail.
David Martin Palafox was 30 years old when his trial began in March 2019, exactly one year after the fatal collision. His trial lasted one week. He did not testify.
Prosecutor Robert Bruce told the jury there is “implied malice” if a person drinks and drives with pre-existing knowledge of how dangerous it is. The prosecutor said it demonstrated a conscious disregard for the safety of others, and gross negligence, and a careless mental state.
Defense attorney Rafael Acosta told the jury, “Accidents happen. Whether you drink, or don’t drink.” He pleaded that the jury should reject the charge of murder. Acosta said the young man “will take responsibility for gross vehicular manslaughter.”
Judge Harry Elias agreed to a “scene view,” in which the jury was bused to the scene of the collision. This is about four miles from the courthouse. The defense attorney wanted the jury to go at night, so they could see how dark and poorly lit the area is, but the judge only agreed to a morning view, from about 9 am to 10 am.
“He accelerated up a hill, you will see on the field trip,” defense attorney Acosta said. He wanted them to notice the curve in the road, which further obscured the view. He asked jurors to “use your eyes and your common sense.” He asked them to picture the drunk, elderly pedestrian stepping out into the darkness, walking into a lane of traffic, and the driver had no time to react. And then the scared young man panicked and drove home, less than a quarter mile away. “He was in his house with the truck parked in front of his house, he did not hide the damage on the truck, he did not try to cover it up. He was in the shower when officers knocked on his door.”
The defense attorney also questioned the effectiveness of the DUI classes which David Palafox took. He said that program had a 33 percent recidivism rate, which forced the people who designed that program to revamp it, since 2014.
In his closing argument, prosecutor Robert Bruce told the jury, “Being drunk is not an excuse.”
The jury deliberated about five hours before they declared David Palafox guilty of all charges.
Prosecutor Robert Bruce later said, “Sadly, this is another example of an innocent person killed by someone who ignored repeated warnings about the dangers of drinking and driving.”