By PAUL PAYNE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A manslaughter charge could be forthcoming against a 17-year-old Cloverdale driver who struck a pedestrian but was allowed to plead to felony hit-and-run in the days before the victim died, a special prosecutor said Wednesday.
Mitch Carlson, who hit and killed longtime resident Miguel Sanchez, 83, in the Dec. 27 crash, could receive the additional charge at a disposition hearing continued to Feb. 9, said Murat Ozgur, a Marin County prosecutor assigned to conduct an independent review of the case.
Ozgur said the new charge would reflect Sanchez’s death on Dec. 31 and would be based in part on new evidence revealed Tuesday by the ongoing investigation.
Ozgur would not say whether the new charge would be a felony or misdemeanor. However, he said a manslaughter charge appears justified.
“The pleadings did not capture the actual crime,” he said.
Ozgur would not describe the evidence but those familiar with the case said outside court that investigators were looking into the possibility that Carlson was using a cell phone at the time of the crash.
“We’re pleased it’s being looked into more thoroughly,” said the victim’s son, Michael Sanchez. “It got off to a jump start so it’s good to see it slow down a little.”
Carlson, a Cloverdale High School student and basketball player, appeared with family members before Judge Raima Ballinger. The proceedings were closed to the public because the case involves a minor.
The family declined to be interviewed as they left the building.
“We’re not making any comment at this time,” said Carlson’s lawyer, Joe Passalacqua.
The case erupted in controversy after Sanchez family members complained it had been settled within days, before Miguel Sanchez died and without the benefit of a completed crash report from Cloverdale police.
Neither outgoing district attorney Stephan Passalacqua, who left office Jan. 3 after two terms, nor his successor, Jill Ravitch, have offered an explanation.
Ravitch has said only that there was some kind of miscommunication. She has since called for an independent investigation that is being overseen by the state Attorney General.
Stephan Passalacqua, brother of the defense attorney, denied any involvement in the case.
Ozgur, who was appointed to determine whether the initial hit-and-run charge was appropriate, said he is still looking into details of the case. An investigator from his Marin office, Michael McBride, is assisting in the review. Also, Cloverdale police are completing their crash investigation, Ozgur said.