The man charged with two counts of vehicular manslaughter in the deaths of a San Luis Obispo couple just before Thanksgiving last year will face trial, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Daniel Saligan Patricio, 24, allegedly struck Matthew Chachere, 39, and Jennifer Besser, 36, with his car on Nov. 21, 2022.
Chachere and Besser were found under dense brush near the intersection of Sacramento Drive and Basil Lane the next day, several hours after police received a report of a dead dog in the creekbed.
The couple, who had been together for 11 years, were recently honored with a memorial plaque at the bridge where they were killed.
Saligan Patricio pleaded not guilty to the charges in March.
Tuesday’s preliminary hearing is the public’s first look at the evidence found during the three-month investigation that preceded Saligan Patricio’s arrest and eventual charges.
As the hearing began, all but one seat in the courtroom was filled with family members of Besser, Chachere and Saligan Patricio.
Responding officer testifies he did not see evidence of pedestrians at the scene
Video footage presented at the hearing shows Besser and Chachere walking their dog from their apartment complex parking lot to the pedestrian bridge that connects to Sacramento Drive around 5:33 p.m.
San Luis Obispo Police Department Officer David Brewer testified Tuesday he was the responding officer to the crash. He said he received the call for service at 5:36 p.m. on Nov. 21, 2022, and was on the scene by 5:43 p.m.
At the time of the accident, Brewer said he did not identify anyone else affected by the crash other than the driver.
Witnesses did not see any pedestrians prior to the crash, he said, including a witness who viewed the crash from beginning to end from approximately 100 yards away.
Saligan Patricio admitted to speeding and texting at the time of the accident, Brewer said, but declined drinking alcohol. The defendant estimated his speed to be between 50 and 60 mph.
The posted speed limits in the area were 20 and 25 mph, it was later revealed in the court hearing.
The defendant did not exhibit any obvious signs of intoxication during their 30 minute interview at the scene, Brewer said, and his vehicle did not smell like alcohol.
Brewer and his partner checked the creekbed to see if anyone had been involved in the accident, he said, but did not see anyone at the time.
There was no evidence to suggest pedestrians had been involved in the crash at the time, Brewer said.
The next day, Brewer responded to the report of a dead dog in the creekbed in the same area of the crash. He said he attempted to contact the phone numbers on the dog’s collar — later identified as Besser and Chachere — but the attempts went to voicemail.
A few hours later, Brewer said, he received a missing persons report for Besser and Chachere that included a photo he recognized to be the dog retrieved from the creekbed.
That’s when investigators searched the creekbed and found Besser’s and Chachere’s bodies.
During the hearing, Ilan Funke-Bilu — Saligan Patricio’s attorney — noted that Brewer’s report was not completed until around Dec. 14, rather than closer to the time of the crash.
Defendant told detectives he drank alcohol prior to crash, detective says
San Luis Obispo Police Department Det. Jeffrey Koznek testified he interviewed Saligan Patricio on Nov. 23 because of the bodies the department recovered at the scene.
Saligan Patricio was interviewed at the Police Department and advised he could leave or stop the interview at anytime as he was not under arrest, Koznek said.
During the interview, Saligan Patricio walked investigators through the day of the crash, Koznek said.
According to that interview, Saligan Patricio woke up early and left for work at a local country club, had lunch at 10:30 a.m., then left work at 2 p.m. He went to Food 4 Less, then returned to his home, which is approximately one mile away from the crash.
Koznek said Saligan Patricio gave “a couple variations” of his alcohol drinking the day of the accident.
First, Koznek said, Saligan Patricio said he purchased alcohol on his lunch break but did not drink alcohol until he was home after work, where he left the tequila bottle. Then, he said he had the tequila bottle with him at the time of the crash and threw the bottle over the bridge before police arrived, Koznek said.
The final story Saligan Patricio told was that he drank two or three shots of tequila mixed with mineral water on his lunch break at 10:30 a.m., and another of the same drink after work at his home, Koznek said.
Saligan Patricio told Koznek he got in a fight with his wife and left to grocery shop at Vons as a result just before the crash. His wife was unaware of his drinking, Koznek said.
Koznek testified that Saligan Patricio then said at the time of the crash that he was upset and driving fast at an estimated 50 mph. He told Koznek he received a text from his wife, was looking for his phone in the passenger seat, and just as he got his phone in his hand and looked back at the road, he realized he was going too fast to follow the turn on Sacramento Drive, Koznek testified.
SLOPD officer: Data from defendant’s vehicle shows acceleration before crash
San Luis Obispo Police Department Officer Joshua Walsh specializes in car accident reconstruction and investigating motor vehicle accidents.
He testified Tuesday that data taken from Saligan Patricio’s Honda Accord showed the defendant was driving at a rate of 43 mph five seconds before the collision, but then he accelerated and allegedly hit the couple at a speed of 61 miles per hour.
Walsh did a crash speed analysis on the curve of Sacramento Drive where the crash occurred, he said, and found the fastest a car could drive that curve without crashing is 44.5 to 50.5 miles per hour depending on the conditions of the road and the car.
The data showed Saligan Patricio did not attempt to brake, Walsh said, but did attempt to turn the steering wheel a half turn to the left two seconds before the collision.
The steering wheel turn suggests Saligan Patricio became aware of the dangerous turn, Walsh said.
Saligan Patricio’s car recorded data of two events less than a second apart, Walsh said. The first was the collision with the couple and the second was when the car flipped and hit the concrete barrier between the creek and the sidewalk, he said.
Walsh’s reconstruction of the crash found that Saligan Patricio’s car drove on the sidewalk, hit a sign pole, then hit Besser and Chachere, flipped in the air and landed on its wheels approximately 110 feet away at the concrete creek barrier within one second.
The concrete barrier went through the car just below the back headrest of the driver’s seat, Walsh said.
“This car went through a lot more than just hitting pedestrians,” Walsh said.
He said car crashes often result in a “cone effect,” meaning remnants of the car or thing the car collided with will distribute in a cone shape from the impact of the crash.
The couple’s bodies were found within the cone effect zone, Walsh said.
The car had “soft body impressions” on the passenger side doors, which shows the couple was hit with the side of the car rather than the front, he said, which is consistent with their injuries.
When someone is hit by the front of a car, Walsh said, they will usually sustain injuries on the lower half of their body. Besser’s and Chachere’s injuries were more concentrated in the top half of their body.
Besser’s injuries, Walsh said, suggest she did not hear or see the car coming. The bruises on her spine show she did not attempt to turn around before the crash occurred. The impact broke her neck, and she is believed to have died instantly, Walsh testified.
Chachere’s injuries showed he partially turned before being hit by the vehicle, Walsh said. Chachere had broken ribs and punctured organs with impact wounds on his left hip and side, according to the testimony.
Chachere is believed to had been alive for a few minutes following the crash, Walsh said, but he was likely unconscious during those minutes. He would have died in the emergency room if he had made it to one, Walsh said.
Walsh said the couple sustained injuries from both the crash and the tumble into the brush of the creek that followed. The cause of death for both was ruled to be blunt force trauma from a motor vehicle accident, he said.
Green fibers from the jacket Besser was wearing also matched fibers found on Saligan Patricio’s vehicle, Walsh said.
Following Tuesday’s testimonies, San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Michael Frye ruled there was enough evidence to bring Saligan Patricio to trial.
His next court date is scheduled for Jan. 4.