Prosecutors were expected to wrap up their case this week against the Santa Barbara man accused of speeding in excess of 100 mph and intentionally crashing head-on into a car driven by a Solvang woman, killing her and her two small children instantly.
Judge Thomas Adams said he expects the prosecuting attorneys to rest their case on Monday, and the defense will start presenting their case later in the week.
Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagner, the lead attorney for the prosecution, and defense attorney Jeremy Lessen are barred from talking about the case because Judge Adams issued a gag order.
Prosecutors presented evidence and testimony in Santa Barbara Superior Court about the Oct. 25, 2019 crash on Highway 154, and about the precarious mental state of defendant John Dungan, then 28.
Investigators with the California Highway Patrol testified that Mr. Dungan was driving 119 mph the wrong way on Highway 154 before the crash and deliberately rammed his Chevy Camaro into a Chevy Volt driven by Rebecca Vanessa Bley, 34, who had her children, 2-year-old Lucienne Bley Gleason and 4-month-old Desmond Bley Gleason, strapped in car seats in the back, according to Noozhawk.
The defendant is charged with three counts of first degree murder, and has pleaded not guilty. He is being held without bail in the Santa Barbara County Jail.
The force of the collision caused Ms. Bley to be ejected from her car but her children were trapped in the back seat, Noozhawk said. The children’s bodies apparently were hard to locate in the dirt and ash in the back seat area following a vehicle fire caused by the collision, Noozhawak said.
Michael Carlson, who worked as a Coroner’s Bureau detective at the time, said they were burned beyond recognition. Ms. Bley had charring on her shoulder from the vehicle fire, as well as open fractures on her arm and leg, skull and neck fractures, and a dislocated pelvis, Mr. Carlson said.
He said he concluded that homicide was the manner of death for all three of them, with which Dr. Manny Montez, a forensic pathologist at the Coroner’s Bureau, concurred.
Witnesses testified that Mr. Dungan was speeding before he drove straight into Ms. Bley’s oncoming vehicle, Noozhawk said, adding that investigators found skid marks across Cold Spring Bridge, where the defendant’s car ended up, and one leading directly to the back of one of his vehicle’s tires. Mr. Dungan was critically injured and taken to Cottage Hospital.
California Highway Patrol Officer Shannan Sams testified that while in the defendant’s hospital room and viewing him, he did not observe any evidence of seatbelt use, Noozhawk said. He said that people in those kinds of vehicle collisions would have welt-like abrasions, markings or redness where the seatbelt was, if one was worn.
Law enforcement investigators also read into evidence some of the more than 1,400 texts he apparently exchanged with his parents in the five months before the fatal crash, Noozhawk said.
Lead CHP investigator Jeffrey Clements said that, after reviewing several text messages, Mr. Dungan’s journals and other evidence, he believed the defendant intentionally drove his car in the wrong direction to strike another vehicle, according to Noozhawk.
Geraldine Dungan, the defendant’s mother, said she did not remember communicating with her son through a phone call or a text around that time, but according to cell phone data records retrieved by Investigator Clements, he communicated “almost exclusively” with his parents during the months before the collision, Noozhawk said.
On Oct. 22, 2019, three days before the crash, he wrote to them that “even though I have hated being your son and have been disappointed by you as a father, I still love you.”
On Oct. 25, the day of the crash, he sent them another text that read, “I hope one day after I’m gone, you realize what you did wrong and understand that I loved you.”
The same day, investigators said, Mr. Dungan went to his parents’ home in Santa Barbara and put a handwritten note inside his mother’s vehicle before leaving, which read in part, “I am too sensitive for this reality and I am done allowing an unjust system to push me around and bully me. I love you all, goodbye. — John Dungan.”
Investigator Clements said that data from a GPS monitoring device — which the defendant was required to wear as part of a pre-trial release agreement for a different case — showed that Mr. Dungan left his parents’ house at around 4:30 p.m. and drove down Foothill Road to Highway 154, Noozhawk said.
At that time, cell phone data records showed that Mr. Dungan sent a text to a friend, Ricardo Flores, that read, “Have a nice life, Ricardo. Thanks for being a good friend,” and another to his parents that read, “Even though you disappointed me sometimes, I still love you.”
At about 4:44 p.m., after the defendant appeared to turn off at East Camino Cielo, the GPS device registered a tamper alert, which Investigator Clements said meant the device was being removed, Noozhawk said.
He testified that Mr. Dungan then continued to drive on Highway 154 toward the Santa Ynez Valley, where the crash ultimately took place.
Witnesses previously testified that they saw Mr. Dungan driving fast on the wrong side of the road, into oncoming traffic, before the crash.
Geraldine Dungan testified that she was not alarmed by the note left by her son, but she nevertheless texted and sent a photo to staff at Recovery Santa Barbara, where her son resided at the time, according to Noozhawk.
“My son writes notes all the time,” Geraldine Dungan said. “He wrote notes a lot and most of them were notes just like that — where you don’t really know what was going on and you assumed he was just venting.”
One of the text messages she sent Recovery Santa Barbara read: “As I was mentioning, there’s something going on with John lately.”
Mrs. Dungan said she did not specifically remember sending the message or what was going on. “I don’t remember anything out of the ordinary,” she said.
However, Megan Harrison, a lead detective at the Santa Barbara Police Department in 2019, testified about responding to a welfare check of Mr. Dungan in February 2019.
The welfare check was prompted by a text message “that appeared to be suicidal/homicidal in nature,” according to court documents, and police seized 16 firearms and ammunition from the residence during their visit.