Mayor defends wine festival after DUI tragedy

Livermore Mayor John Marchand said today that an incident on Saturday evening in which a man who had visited a wine festival allegedly lost control of his car and killed a woman and her 14-month-old daughter is about personal responsibility, not the wine event.

Marchand said the Livermore Wine Country Festival “is a very successful event that has been run for 24 years by Livermore Downtown Inc.” and the crash that killed 46-year-old Esperanza Morales-Rodriguez of Seaside and her daughter Ulidia Perez-Morales was the first serious incident linked to the festival.

Livermore police allege that 35-year-old Brian Jones of Livermore lost control of his car while driving under the influence of alcohol when he crashed into an apartment complex in the 900 block of Murrieta Boulevard just before 6:50 p.m. Saturday and killed Morales-Rodriguez and her daughter.

Morales-Rodriguez and her daughter were pronounced dead at the scene.

Police said debris from the crash struck two boys, who were taken to a hospital and were listed in stable condition.

Preliminary tests indicate that Jones was driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.13 percent or higher, police said.

Jones was arrested on suspicion of gross vehicular manslaughter and DUI but the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office said today that it isn’t filing charges against him at this time because it’s still reviewing the case. Prosecutors said they could file charges against Jones at a later date.

Jones is free on $350,000 bail and is tentatively scheduled to be arraigned on May 28.

Marchand said:

“This unfortunate tragedy is not about the wine festival but instead is about personal responsibility. It appears that Mr.┬áJones chose to drive recklessly after drinking. Excessive speed was also a factor.”

Marchand said there were 270 craft booths in downtown Livermore during the wine festival and only ten per cent were wine- and beer- related.

He said:

“It is estimated that up to 150,000 people came to enjoy our downtown over the weekend but only ten percent of those attending chose to taste the wines and beers. …┬áThe festival is designed to discourage heavy drinking since patrons are limited to a one ounce pour per station. They then walk to the next station, stand in line and wait for the next one ounce pour.

Beers were limited to three ounce pours.” The stations were spaced throughout the downtown area and waits between pours averaged 15 to 20 minutes, Marchand said.

Employees at the wine festival were trained to recognize people who were impaired, according to Marchand. Four people were identified as impaired and were arrested for public intoxication, he said.

Marchand also said “It is important to recognize that almost two hours elapsed from the time that pouring stopped at the festival and the time that the accident occurred” and alleged that it’s likely that Jones chose to continue drinking elsewhere after the festival.

Marchand said many patrons chose to take advantage of taxis that were prominently available in the downtown during the festival and others had designated drivers.

He said, “Mr. Jones chose to get behind the wheel after drinking and lost control of his car.” Jones’ attorney, Ernie Castillo, wasn’t available for comment.