By Clair McFarland, General Assignment Reporter
A Torrington man accused of hitting a woman with his SUV and driving away was transferred to a higher court Wednesday, despite his defense attorney’s argument that the case should be a negligence civil lawsuit, not a felony criminal prosecution.
Juan Gomez Gallardo, 68, appeared in Torrington Circuit Court on Wednesday for a preliminary hearing, which is a proceeding establishing whether the state has probable cause to launch a felony-level prosecution against a defendant.
Judge Thomas Lee, after hearing evidence, found probable cause to advance the case to Goshen County District Court.
Gomez Gallardo is charged with aggravated assault, a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and $10,000 in fines. He also faces misdemeanor traffic crime charges.
The state alleges that Gomez Gallardo rammed an SUV into Andrea Griffin, a Torrington woman who was walking to work on the morning of Oct. 26 at about 7 a.m.
According to court testimony, Griffin walked through the town’s busiest intersection and a white SUV rammed into her, then swerved twice to dislodge her from its fender. She landed about 10 feet from the impact point, an eyewitness testified.
The Torrington Police Department turned the case over to the Wyoming Highway Patrol because Gomez Gallardo’s son serves on the department.
Randy Giles, a bus driver who’d been stopped at the intersection, leapt out of his bus to render aid to Griffin.
Emma Brott, a Lingle woman who was on her way to work, also left her vehicle to help, according to court testimony.
Giles said Griffin was lying in the intersection and said she wanted to get up and leave the scene, but he kept her immobilized.
Hospital personnel later discovered that Griffin had skull and facial fractures, arm fractures requiring numerous hardware installations and a broken wrist. She also needed a full hip replacement.
‘Then She Fell To The Ground’
Brott testified that after the SUV swerved left, right, then left, flinging Griffin from its fender into its side mirror, and ultimately to the road before driving away without braking.
“She was kind of on, but up against the fender. The left side fender,” said Brott. “And then that (swerve) made her bounce off the fender and hit the mirror of his vehicle – and then she fell to the ground.”
Gomez Gallardo attended his preliminary hearing, where an English/Spanish interpreter translated the proceedings for him.
Griffin also was in the courtroom.
Giles testified that at that time, the sun had not yet crested the horizon but its light was visible. Everyone at the intersection had their headlights on, Giles said.
Gomez Gallardo’s defense attorney, David MacDonald, said during his closing argument that the low-light conditions, the glare of headlights into the intersection and the inherent danger of a left-hand turn all should have made the case a civil negligence case – not a felony aggravated assault case.
People can be charged with aggravated assault if they cause or attempt to cause serious bodily injury to a victim, even if they do so recklessly.
“This is not a matter of being reckless,” said MacDonald. “It’s a matter of being negligent.”
Case Bound Over
Judge Lee said he disagreed with MacDonald’s characterization of the evidence.
He clarified that often car accidents are not criminal and should not be charged as crimes. But Brott’s testimony that the SUV swerved twice to “dislodge” Griffin from the car was the evidence needed to advance the case as a possible felony, Lee said.
“Ms. Brott testified that she saw the accident, that she saw the defendant swerve twice in an attempt to dislodge Ms. Griffin from his car,” Lee said. “That evidence testimony if it were to be believed by a jury certainly would be evidence of recklessness as the statute contemplates.”
While questioning a Wyoming Highway Patrol trooper on the case, MacDonald also cast doubt on whether Gomez Gallardo was given a proficient-enough interpreter during his initial police interview.
In the interview, Gomez Gallardo reportedly told police he heard an impact to his SUV while he turned left on his way to work but didn’t see anything.
“Something didn’t feel right,” when he got to work, Gomez Gallardo had reportedly told police, and he discovered that his driver’s side headlight was broken.
“We take exception to the matter of interpretation,” said MacDonald at the hearing. “I forgot to ask Trooper (Samuel) Szott if the interview had been recorded because I think it certainly needs to be reviewed for the quality of interpretation.”
Szott had testified that the interpreter who was at that police interview works for the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation.
Lee said during his finding of probable cause that MacDonald’s concern about the police-interview interpreter has merit and could be explored on the district court level, but isn’t the sort of thing circuit courts sift through at preliminary hearings.
“Your objection is certainly a good one,” said Lee, adding that the district court can consider whether Gomez Gallardo’s interview statements should be suppressed, or excluded from the trial evidence, in the higher court.
Griffin told Cowboy State Daily in a text Thursday that her face, left hand and left knee are often numb nearly three months after the crash.
She is planning on having dental work done to address breakages from landing on her face. She attends physical therapy three times a week for two and a half hours at a time, Griffin said.
Her left hand and wrist are still swollen and “very” stiff, she said, adding that her left leg is weak and she often wears a brace on it.
Griffin is getting “better and stronger,” she said. “It is just taking so very long.”
She has just returned to working part-time, and said she’s grateful to her employer for holding her job for three months.
Griffin expressed gratitude toward her physical therapists, family and friends, “and for this community, who have overwhelmed me with their generosity. I cannot thank them enough.”