Despite admitting guilt to police several weeks ago, the suspect arrested in the hit-and-run that critically injured Joshua “Joshie” Valdez pleaded not guilty to the charge of felony hit-and-run causing injury Friday at South County Courthouse in Morgan Hill.
Sandra Arias, 28 of Morgan Hill, admitted to police that she accidentally hit Valdez in the early morning hours of June 16 near Butterfield Boulevard and San Pedro Avenue, according to court records. Court records also indicate that she admitted to police that she had been drinking the night of the accident.
A stoic, well-dressed Arias stood before Judge Edward Lee, her family and Valdez’ family in silence while a stand-in lawyer spoke for her (her own lawyer, San Jose-based private criminal attorney Riccardo Ippolito was not present) to request a delay in proceedings. She made eye contact with no one, and only spoke to acknowledge that by requesting a delay, she waived her rights for a hearing within 10 or 60 days.
As the first proceeding of the day at 9 a.m., Arias held stiff posture Friday morning as she waiting to be called on in the courtroom audience, with no one immediately at her side. The entire arraignment lasted less than 60 seconds, with Arias stepping up to the front without getting near the microphone. As soon as her arraignment ended, Arias made a beeline out of the courtroom.
Valdez’ mother Stacie Valdez (who did not want to be quoted) and aunt also fled from the room, his mother crying as she left the building.
Valdez, 22, was found around 1 a.m. June 16 near a tree at the Morgan Hill intersection with a closed head injury, several broken bones, road rash and internal bruises. Still in a coma, last week the Gilroy High School graduate was briefly moved out of the Intensive Care Unit and into the trauma unit.
However, Stacie Valdez posted on a Facebook page titled “Prayers for Joshie” that her son, known to his friends as “Joshie,” suffered a setback over the weekend, sending him back to the intensive care unit. While hospital staff tried to take a sample of his chest fluids, some of his stomach properties traveled to his lungs and his heart jumped to a dangerous rate, Stacie Valdez wrote on the Facebook page.
If Joshua Valdez were to be rendered permanently disabled or if he dies as a result of his injuries, the charge against Arias could be revised to a more serious offense, according to prosecutors.
Arias has not been in police custody. She was released on $35,000 bail June 22, the day after she was arrested.
Dressed in skinny jeans, a gray sweater and the same thick black plastic-rimmed glasses of her booking photo, Arias stayed composed during the entire proceeding Friday.
Steve Lowney, the deputy district attorney prosecuting the case, said it isn’t uncommon for a suspect to admit guilt to police but later enter a not guilty plea in court.
“At arraignments of serious cases like this, the defendant almost always pleas not guilty,” Lowney said. “It’s to get a chance to talk to your attorney and figure out how to best approach the case.”
Lowney said the case may resolve this fall with Arias taking early responsibility for the crime and cutting a deal with the courts. She faces a sentence that ranges from probation to six years in jail plus fines.
“With the circumstances of this case, it seems like it will resolve earlier rather than later,” Lowney said.
Lowney added that Arias’ release on bail does not prohibit her from driving, though he does not know if the DMV has placed any restrictions on her license since the accident.
Arias’ car, a silver Volkswagen Beetle, has been seen since she was released, Stacie Valdez reported on the Facebook page devoted to her son. Valdez did not report seeing Arias drive, but said she saw the car parked near the scene of the hit-and-run at Butterfield Boulevard and San Pedro Avenue.
Arias is scheduled to appear in court on Aug. 10 at 9 a.m. at the South County Courthouse.