Chef Larry Forgione accused of killing pedestrian
Decorated chef Larry Forgione had a rough day in court Thursday.
Video evidence presented during his vehicular manslaughter trial refuted testimony from one of his key witnesses that a crosswalk light was green when he struck and killed a pedestrian, 90-year-old Gilbert Ramirez, on the evening of Feb. 24, 2018. The crash occurred at around 7 p.m. in the 500 block of State Street.
Mr. Forgione appeared before Judge James Herman in Santa Barbara County Superior Court, alongside his attorney Meghan Behrens. Deputy District Attorney Sarah Barkley is prosecuting the case.
Defense witness Melanie McNamara testified that she was having dinner at Paxti’s Pizza when the crash occurred. She was seated at the restaurant’s middle arch with a view of the street.
“We were having dinner on the outside patio. I was facing the street. I heard a loud noise. My friend to the left of me jumped up and said ‘I saw someone get hit.’ I then looked over and saw, through the pillar, as I probably said it was a green light at that time,” said Ms. McNamara.
She testified that she did not actually see the crash.
“It happened pretty fast. It was loud sound, my friend jumped up and we all looked,” she said.
During cross-examination Ms. Barkley played a video taken from a surveillance camera at Baja Sharkeez that appeared to catch the fatal crash on tape.
The video showed what appeared to be a dark vehicle driving down State Street towards Paxti’s.
“Does that change your opinion as to whether the light was green or red right after the collision?” asked Ms. Barkley.
“I mean from watching this video here today at this moment I can see that it is red. On this side,” said Ms. McNamara.
The light in the video would have been visible to the oncoming driver, but may not have been visible from the street.
During an evidence hearing held outside the presence of the jury, Judge Herman gave Ms. Behrens permission to present evidence that the city of Santa Barbara improved the visibility of the crosswalk in question shortly after the crash and to call an expert witness to testify on potential obstructions that were present at the time of the crash.
He noted that such evidence is inconsistent with Ms. Behren’s case so far; that the light was green at the time of the crash.
“Your client has taken one position. He testified under oath that it was green,” said Judge Herman.
“He saw it was green and he went through it. And that’s what he told the police from day one. So it’s not a matter of whether you have to give up your defense or not, the fact is your defense has been consistent. It’s never been there’s something wrong in terms of the visual clutter of this intersection. It’s gonna be a very interesting confusion for the jury, you switching positions.”
Ms. Behrens countered that she is allowed to present inconsistent theories to the jury.
Trial is expected to conclude on Monday.