Jury selection begins today in murder trial of Breck man
BRECKENRIDGE – Jury selection begins today in San Diego in the second-degree murder case in which a Breckenridge man stands accused of killing a California Highway Patrol officer.
The Breckenridge man is accused of striking the officer after a night of drinking in Tijuana, Mexico.
Christopher Paul Merrick, who turns 22 April 24, allegedly struck Sean Nava, 33, just before dawn on Oct. 28, 2000. The 11-year veteran patrolman was conducting an investigation of a previous accident on the shoulder of Interstate 5 in northern San Diego County. Nava was thrown into the air, landed on the windshield and fell to the pavement. He was pronounced dead upon arrival at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido.
Merrick was arrested after residents in a neighborhood a half-mile away in the town of Carlsbad reported him and his passenger, James Roy Smith, Jr., making noise in the street.
His bail was increased from $500,000 to $2 million (upon being arrested) after a Superior Court judge interviewed a witness and obtained more evidence in the case.
According to San Diego District Attorney’s Office public affairs representative Denise Vedder, the witness said Merrick tailgated her for about five miles before he darted onto the shoulder where Nava was standing. Because the act appeared to be so aggressive, the judge opted to keep the bail at $2 million, Vedder said.
Merrick pleaded not guilty to felony charges of second-degree murder, gross vehicular manslaughter, drunken driving and hit-and-run.
Investigators said Merrick had a blood-alcohol content higher than .08, the minimum legal standard at which someone is considered intoxicated in California. The legal drinking age in Mexico is 18 and in California is 21; Merrick was 20 at the time of the incident.
According to investigators, Merrick’s Toyota 4Runner suffered a smashed windshield, twisted fender and crumpled hood. The accident closed the interstate – a major corridor between San Diego and Los Angeles – for more than eight hours.
Merrick, who had been convicted in Grand County on an underage alcohol offense, said he thought he’d struck something on the highway. An investigation showed there were no skid marks near the site where Nava was struck.
Nava’s death took place during Red Ribbon Week, a time set aside to raise awareness about the dangers of drinking and driving.
Jane Stebbins can be reached at 668-3998 ext. 228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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