INDIO, Calif. - A convicted DUI offender accused in an alcohol-fueled collision that fatally injured a 70-year-old bicyclist pleaded not guilty today to second-degree murder and hit-and-run charges.
Brandon Royce Melton, 27, of Palm Springs was arrested April 13 after allegedly killing Edward James Shaieb in a collision in the 67300 block of East Palm Canyon Drive in Cathedral City.
Along with the murder count, Melton is charged with DUI gross vehicular manslaughter, hit-and-run resulting in death and sentence-enhancing allegations of fleeing the scene of a crime and causing a fatal collision.
Melton appeared before Riverside County Superior Court Judge William Lebov, who set a June 7 felony settlement conference and left the defendant's bail at $1 million."This is a very unfortunate situation,'' Melton's attorney, Robert Hickey, told City News Service. "It's terrible that someone was killed. There are no winners here.''
According to Hickey, the government's case against his client is not as cut-and-dry as it may first appear. While Hickey acknowledged that alcohol played a part in the deadly collision, he noted that other factors must also be considered.
"This accident happened where the street lights are maybe 100 yards apart. It's an extremely dark road,'' the attorney said. ``You have a homeless man on a bicycle, riding around in dark clothing, with dark trash bags filled with his cans hanging on him. He has no reflectors on. He's very difficult to see.''
According to Hickey, the victim was not paralleling traffic when he was struck.
"He turned at a 90-degree angle, basically putting himself in the path of my client's vehicle,'' Hickey told CNS. ``How is it possible to avoid a collision?''
The attorney said that Melton exercised ``poor judgment'' in choosing to drink and drive, but the prosecution cannot rely on that alone to convict him of murder or manslaughter.
""They're going to have to prove that his impairment caused him to neglect his legal duty,'' Hickey said. "How can you prove that when someone jumps in front of you without warning?''
According to Cathedral City police Capt. Chuck Robinson, Melton fled the scene of the collision, returning to Palm Springs.
"Several minutes later, the Palm Springs Police Department called us and said the hit-and-run driver was on their 911 system, reporting that he had been involved in the collision,'' Robinson said.
Cathedral City police arrested Melton in the 3700 block of East Camino Simeon.
Under California law, a previously convicted DUI offender who causes a fatal crash while under the influence can be charged with second-degree murder because he or she was made aware of the dangers associated with impaired driving.
Melton pleaded guilty in December 2007 to a misdemeanor DUI charge -- which included an enhancement of having a .15 blood alcohol level -- and was sentenced to three years probation, according to court records.