SANTA ANA, Calif. - An Orange County Fire Authority battalion chief was being hailed Monday for quickly tipping authorities to a deadly hit-and-run crash that led to an arrest.
Sommer N. Gonzales of Tustin was being held without bail today in Sunday's suspected DUI collision that killed 21-year-old bicyclist Joseph Robinson.
OCFA Battalion Chief Marc Stone was driving north on Santiago Canyon Road near Irvine Lake about 7 a.m. Sunday when he noticed a car going in the other direction with a heavily damaged windshield. His initial thought was the car collided with a deer, but when he saw a shoe in the roadway he swung his vehicle around to investigate and found the victim in the bushes.
Stone phoned in a description of the vehicle -- a 2001 Toyota -- and authorities issued a bulletin, leading to an arrest in Rancho Santa Margarita, according to California Highway Patrol Officer Todd Kovaletz.
Gonzales was southbound on Santiago Canyon Road about 7 a.m. when her vehicle ``drifted due to her impairment'' and collided with Robinson, who was riding a bike on the shoulder, south of Loma Ridge in Orange, according to Kovaletz.
Gonzales kept driving and was arrested later in a parking lot ``trying to offload personal equipment from her vehicle into a friend's car,'' Kovaletz said.
Gonzales failed a field sobriety test, and authorities were awaiting the results of toxicology tests, Kovaletz said. Gonzales was booked on suspicion of driving under the influence and hit and run, the officer said.
``I was on my way to work yesterday morning, driving through Santiago Canyon when I was about at Irvine Lake I noticed an oncoming vehicle heading southbound with heavy damage to the windshield,'' Stone said. ``Initially, I thought it was odd a person was driving a car in that condition.''
Deer are common in the area, so the battalion chief thought the vehicle must have collided with one, but Stone kept scanning the roadway, he said.
``My gut instinct told me something wasn't right,'' he said, adding he also considered the road is popular with bicyclists.
Stone noticed ``vegetation'' and a shoe in the road, prompting him to make a U-turn and inspect the area more closely.
``I thought, `Tell me this wasn't related to what I just saw,' '' he said. ``Sure enough, I found the victim thrown over the guard rail with his bicycle. It was completely out of view.''
Stone checked the victim's pulse, but he realized the bicyclist was dead, he said.
``I immediately called 911. Now it wasn't about saving that life, it was about'' catching the suspect, Stone said.
Stone praised authorities for tracking down the vehicle based on his ``vague description.'' The battalion chief played down his role in the arrest.
``I didn't do anything anybody else wouldn't have done,'' Stone said. ``Bottom line is I was using my gut instinct, following my intuition.''
Stone was called to the arrest scene to identify the vehicle, he said.
``Once I saw the car I knew right away,'' he said. ``The damage I saw in
the windshield was the same damage I saw (earlier).''
Capt. Steve Concialdi of the Orange County Fire Authority said if not for Stone the suspect may have evaded arrest and that the incident is a reminder that when something seems suspicious a call to authorities is always warranted.