Police: LeBeau alone in car at time of fatal Fresno crash
Central High School coach Loren LeBeau, who is charged in the drunken-driving, hit-and-run death of 7-year-old Donovan Maldonado, was alone in his car when the crash happened, a Fresno police captain said Thursday.
But LeBeau was drinking with a female friend before the deadly collision, said Capt. Andy Hall, who is in charge of the investigation.
Hall released the information because of speculation that someone was in LeBeau’s car when the crash happened in a northeast Fresno crosswalk on July 25. Rumors swirled because after the collision, LeBeau left the scene, police said. He returned a short time later.
Though the investigation is continuing, Hall said detectives have learned that LeBeau was not at a bar, but was drinking at Bass Lake with a female friend. LeBeau later took the woman to her home and had a drink with her there, Hall said. After he left the woman’s home, his car hit Donovan and the boy’s father and 18-month-old sister, the captain said.
Hall declined to identify the woman but said she is cooperating with police. Detectives should complete the investigation next week, he said.
LeBeau could not be reached to comment. His attorney, Jeff Hammerschmidt, said, “I’m focusing on the accident, not on my client’s personal relationship.”
A criminal complaint charges LeBeau, 42, with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated; drunken driving causing great bodily injury to Donovan’s father, Jesse Maldonado, and sister, Bella; driving with a blood-alcohol level over the state’s legal limit of 0.08; and leaving the scene of a collision involving death and injury.
Thursday morning, a nervous LeBeau made his first appearance in Fresno County Superior Court, where he was surrounded by supporters, including his wife, Sarah, and several bailiffs.
He got a big break when a judge allowed him to remain free on $256,000 bail and delayed his arraignment until Aug. 16.
Judge Gregory Fain made his ruling over the objections of the prosecution, which wanted bail increased to $1.14 million.
“It’s the people’s contention that he is a danger to the public,” prosecutor Dennis Verzosa told the judge. LeBeau also is a flight risk, he said.
But Hammerschmidt argued that prosecutors had overcharged his client. The judge agreed, saying two of the four charges appear to be alternate charges and LeBeau could not receive additional punishment if convicted of those charges.
Hammerschmidt said his client promises not to drive or drink while his case is pending. LeBeau told Fain he has already surrendered his driver’s license to police.
In addition, LeBeau is wearing an ankle monitor that checks his perspiration every 30 minutes to determine whether he is drinking, Hammerschmidt said. The results are sent to Hammerschmidt every day. If the monitor shows his client is drinking, Hammerschmidt told Fain, he would immediately inform Verzosa and the court.
Because of Hammerschmidt’s promise, Fain allowed LeBeau to remain free on the $256,00 bail that LeBeau posted two days after the crash. The judge also told LeBeau he had to attend an alcohol treatment program at least four times a week.
“If you drink alcohol, you will come right into custody,” Fain told LeBeau. “If you drive, you will come right into custody.”
“Yes, your honor,” LeBeau replied.
With cameras aimed at him, LeBeau left the courthouse without commenting.
“He’s still in a state of shock,” Hammerschmidt told reporters. “He’s devastated that a child is dead. His life will never be the same.”
Donovan’s family did not attend the hearing, nor have they read newspaper accounts or watched television regarding LeBeau, said family spokesman Brian Cain, pastor at Grace Place in Clovis.
The family is still grieving over Donovan’s death and coping with the serious injuries suffered by Donovan’s father and sister, Cain said. “It’s been a train wreck for them,” he added.
Jesse Maldonado remained in good condition Thursday at Community Regional Medical Center, a hospital spokeswoman said. His body is bruised and he has had several surgeries on his shattered left leg and has more surgeries to go, Cain said.
Bella is in fair condition at Children’s Hospital Central California in Madera County. She suffered a serious head injury, Cain said.
Donovan died hours after the 9 p.m. crash on Shepherd Avenue west of Millbrook Avenue at the Sugar Pine Trail crossing. The family had the right-of-way, police said, because they were in the crosswalk and already crossed one lane on the westbound side when they were hit.
Thursday, large yellow signs in Donovan’s honor were at each end of the crosswalk. “Donovan’s crossing. Life taken by a drunken driver,” the signs said.
The family has hired Fresno attorney Warren Paboojian, who said Thursday that he plans to file a lawsuit against LeBeau and possibly the city of Fresno over whether the Sugar Pine Trail crosswalk was safe.
“I want to help the family with their medical expenses and try to make that crosswalk safe,” Paboojian said.
One issue is that the street light over the crosswalk was not working, Paboojian said. Now it’s fixed, he said.
LeBeau was believed to have been driving about 45 mph in a 40 mph speed zone when he hit the Maldonados and dragged Donovan hundreds of yards on Shepherd Avenue, police said. A few minutes after the crash, LeBeau returned to the scene and admitted his involvement, police said.
Police said a blood toxicology test on LeBeau shortly after the collision recorded a 0.11 blood-alcohol level.
Hammerschmidt declined to say why his client left the scene but said the public should reserve judgment until all the evidence is made public.
“Typically, hit-and-run drivers flee to avoid responsibility,” Hammerschmidt said. “But he came back and admitted to being the driver. He didn’t blame someone else and he didn’t hide his car.”
LeBeau, Central High’s varsity boys basketball coach, is on paid administrative leave from the Central Unified School District.
By Pablo Lopez