Man convicted of drunken driving after his car slammed into ambulance

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A Winston-Salem man whose car smashed into an ambulance carrying a 2-year-old boy early last year has been convicted of drunken driving.

Jose Martin Duran Romero, 28, of Neston Drive was found guilty by a Forsyth County judge Monday of driving while impaired, failing to reduce speed and driving without an operator’s license.

The charges were connected to a collision on Feb. 11, 2018, on U.S. 52 near downtown Winston-Salem. The ambulance was rushing Braylon Hunter Jenkins, 2, suffering from a brain tumor, from a Virginia hospital to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. Braylon died a day after the wreck, but his cause of death was the brain tumor, not injuries that were the result of the crash, experts determined.

Judge Ted Kazakos of Forsyth District Court determined that Romero was guilty after a trial Monday afternoon that lasted more than two hours. Kazakos gave Romero an active prison sentence of 12 months. That’s the most Romero could have received based on his record and other factors in the case. Romero had no previous DWI convictions. He will get credit for time he has already served awaiting trial. He has 27 days left to serve in his sentence, Forsyth County Assistant District Attorney Jane Garrity said Tuesday.

According to Winston-Salem police, Romero, driving a 2003 Honda Accord, hit the ambulance on its left side, causing it to overturn near the Liberty Street exit on southbound U.S. 52. Romero’s car ran off the road.

According to court records, Romero had a blood alcohol content of 0.19 percent, more than twice North Carolina’s legal limit of 0.08 percent. The amount of alcohol in Romero’s system at the time was one of three aggravating factors Garrity alleged in court.

She also alleged a grossly aggravating factor — that Romero’s negligent driving resulted in serious injury to Brylon.

Braylon was being taken from Norton Community Hospital in Norton, Va., to Wake Forest Baptist.

Braylon had been nauseated and vomiting for several days before being taken to the Virginia hospital. When he got there, he began having seizures, and doctors found an 8 centimeter mass on the left side of his brain.

The key issue in this case was whether the crash directly caused Braylon’s death.   

According to an amended autopsy report in December, the answer to that question is no.

The updated autopsy report said the primary cause of death was complications from the brain tumor. The initial autopsy report said a contributing factor in Braylon’s death was a traumatic extubation, meaning that the force of the collision knocked out his breathing tube, resulting in a loss of oxygen to his brain. The amended autopsy report said Braylon died from a loss of oxygen caused by brain swelling because of the tumor, noting that the breathing tube was out for only 15 seconds before another tube was put in. That wasn’t enough time for it to have been a contributing factor.

Assistant District Attorney Matt Breeding told the Winston-Salem Journal in December that because the new autopsy showed there was no evidence that the crash caused Braylon’s death, prosecutors could not charge Romero with felony death by motor vehicle.

Prosecutors also could not charge him with second-degree murder, which requires evidence of malice. One way to prove malice is if Romero had previous DWI convictions, which would show he knew he should not be drinking and driving. Another way would be if he had a driver’s license and it had been revoked, showing Romero knew he was not supposed to drive.

But Romero didn’t have any previous DWI convictions and he did not have a license that had been revoked.

Garrity said Tuesday that Walter Thomas III and Christopher Simmons testified at the trial. Thomas and Simmons were in a car traveling in the northbound lane when they saw the collision. They went across the median to help Braylon and Romero.

Evan Trawick, a paramedic, also testified during the trial.

Braylon’s’ family, including his mother, did not attend the trial, Garrity said. His mother, Lyndsay Oakes of Wise, Va., was in the ambulance when the incident happened.

Garrity said Romero’s attorney did not present evidence in the case. In criminal trials, a defendant is not required to present evidence and the burden is on the prosecutor to prove a defendant’s guilt.

Laraque Stewart, Romero’s attorney, declined Tuesday to comment on the case.

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