An 83-year-old Palm Desert man pleaded not guilty Wednesday to a felony charge for allegedly crashing his car into a fence at an elementary school, where a 10-year-old student struck by flying debris lost a leg.
Malcolm Ross Paterson was charged last month with one count of driving
under the influence causing injury, along with a sentence-enhancing allegation of great bodily injury in the Oct. 23 crash that injured Lincoln Elementary School student Adrian Grajeda.
Paterson, who was pushed into court in a wheelchair, is free on his own recognizance and is due back in court July 29.
The conditions of Paterson's freedom are that he cannot drive, drink alcohol or go to bars or liquor stores, and he must submit to chemical tests requested by law enforcement, Riverside County District Attorney's Office
spokesman John Hall said.
Paterson was driving a Chevrolet Cruze south on Portola Avenue,
approaching a red light at Magnesia Falls Drive about 9:50 a.m., when he
``mistakenly pressed the accelerator rather than the brake pedal when
approaching traffic stopped at an intersection,'' then ``pressed harder on the accelerator without realizing his mistake,'' according to a declaration filed in support of an arrest warrant.
Paterson's car collided with another vehicle, veered onto a sidewalk,
crashed into a traffic signal and finally struck the steel perimeter fence of
Abraham Lincoln Elementary School on Rutledge Way in Palm Desert.
Debris from the crash struck Adrian, who was airlifted to a hospital and
had his right leg amputated below the knee. Other students were outside at the time, but no one else was hurt.
Paterson stayed at the scene, according to the Riverside County Sheriff's Department.
Though a blood test showed Paterson's blood-alcohol level was 0.04 percent, below the legal limit of 0.08 percent, his ``actions throughout the
events of the collision, combined with his measured BAC, led me to believe that alcohol contributed to a mental impairment, making him unable to operate a motor vehicle in a safe manner,'' sheriff's Deputy John Cleary wrote in the declaration.
Paterson's attorney Geoffrey Yaryan told News Channel 3 and CBS Local 2, "I've never seen someone arrested and prosecuted for a DUI where they had no evidence at the scene that he was impaired. They did no test, no field sobriety test, because they didn't suspect he had used any alcohol.
"He's [Paterson] very concerned about it. Certainly he feels horrible about the result of the accident. Nothing he can do about that now. He regrets everything that happened," Yaryan said. "He had very little experience with the car."
In April, Adrian's mother sued Paterson for negligence, alleging that he knew or should have known that he was ``unfit and/or incompetent to operate the subject vehicle given he was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident.''
The suit asks for unspecified damages.
Our stations also spoke to Adrian's mother Brandy Grajeda in court Wednesday morning.
"It's very emotional for me. I'm trying not to cry. We're just hoping for justice and closure for our family," Grajeda said. "It's overwhelming to see him [Paterson], and my son wanted to see him, but he's not allowed in the courtroom. He wanted to see who hit him."
She said her son Adrian is not angry with Paterson at all, but she believes he wants some kind of closure.
"It states very clearly there are multiple witnesses, including a firefighter, that said he [Paterson] was slouched in the chair and his speech was impaired so there is evidence that he was drinking", Grajeda said.