By Sam Stanton and Bill Lindelof
LODI -- Police say they are pursuing murder charges in the vehicle crash last Tuesday that killed five members of a Lodi family, including a woman seven months pregnant, and left a 9-year-old boy orphaned and hospitalized.
Lodi Police Chief Mark Helms told reporters this morning that "this horrific event was not an accident" and that murder charges would be pursued against 28-year-old Ryan Christopher Morales, who is suspected of drunken driving in the incident.
Morales, who was recently released from prison, appears to be the only individual who was under the influence of alcohol in the wreck and could be charged with second-degree murder for each person killed, with a penalty of 15 years to life.
Morales, released from prison last month, did not have a driver's license and had been drinking apple vodka with his father shortly before the crash, search warrant documents and state records show.
Morales remains in critical condition at Kaiser Sacramento South and is being watched in the hospital around-the-clock by Lodi police.
Helms said investigators have not been able to speak to Morales because "he is incapacitated."
The police probe into the crash will take months before charges are filed.
Documents filed with San Joaquin Superior Court indicate that Morales was driving a GMC Yukon and was pinned inside after the crash. An officer "could smell an odor of an alcoholic beverage emitting from his person," the documents state.
The documents also say Morales was driving "at a high rate of speed" when he collided with a Ford F-150 truck carrying a family of six, including a woman seven months pregnant, at a busy intersection near Lodi Middle School.
The crash occurred at 5:21 p.m. and involved six vehicles. James Morales, the suspect's father, told police that he and his son had begun drinking around 4 p.m. after his son brought home a 750 ml bottle of vodka that they finished, the documents state.
Witnesses have told police they saw a young man driving an SUV just before the accident swerving at high speeds and clutching a cellphone to his ear.
Morales does not have a current driver's license, according to Department of Motor Vehicle records. Instead, he has a state identification card and a record for a March 22 conviction of evading police. State corrections records show he was sentenced to one year and four months and ordered to prison May 15. He was released from prison on Sept. 2 and is on searchable probation for his conviction, which occurred in Alameda County.
Luis Miranda, 32, was killed along with his pregnant wife, Viviana Rodriguez, 31.
The crash also killed three of their four children: 12-year-old Irving, 6-year-old Jose and 5-year-old Stephanie.
Their other child, 9-year-old Eden, survived and was listed in critical condition after the accident. Helms said Eden is still fighting for his life but that his condition has improved.