A man who had never faced a judge before sat in silence Monday as prosecutors told a courtroom filled with grieving spectators how he killed three young people from Placer County in a grisly crash on I-80 from which he was the only survivor.
Aaron Jordon Caudillo, 24, didn’t speak when the judge increased his bail to $1 million. He didn’t move when prosecutors told the court he had been driving drunk on Jan. 10, speeding the wrong way on I-80 with an open bottle of rum in his lap.
He sat at the front of the courtroom with his arm handcuffed to his wheelchair, his neck in a brace and his right leg in a cast.
Prosecutors asked the judge to raise his bail, originally set at $820,000, given the magnitude of the crash that killed Kendra Langham, 18, Mathew Beardwitt, 18, and Matthew Azar, 19.
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The defendant’s blood-alcohol level was 0.14, prosecutors said, nearly twice the legal limit beyond which a driver is presumed impaired. Blood tests would later indicate that he also had traces of marijuana in his system, prosecutors said.
At this, one of the more than 20 people who showed up in support of the victims gasped. Caudillo lowered his gaze.
Caudillo was represented in court by Sacramento attorney John Holbus. “He has no criminal record,” Holbus told Sacramento Superior Court Judge Jack Sapunor. “He’s never been in a court before.”
Caudillo has been in custody since the crash, though he spent nearly two weeks in a hospital. After his release from Mercy San Juan Medical Center, he was taken straight to the Sacramento County jail and charged with three counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
If convicted, he could face up to 30 years in prison – 10 for each count.
The collision happened about 2:10 a.m. as Caudillo, a Roseville resident, was driving a 2006 Chrysler 300 west on eastbound I-80, west of Madison Avenue. The teens were in a 1994 Buick Regal heading east in the fast lane, according to the California Highway Patrol. The two cars collided head on, killing the three in the Buick, all graduates of Granite Bay High School.
After the hearing, victims’ friends and family huddled together outside the courtroom, their eyes still wet with tears.
“They were so young,” said Christine Ickes, a friend of Langham’s.
When Caudillo was wheeled into the courtroom, she said her heart stopped.
“Just like it did when I saw his picture released a few days ago, my heart just instantly dropped to the floor,” Ickes said. “I want justice. I know I want peace of mind for the families because (the victims) can’t come back. They’re gone.”
Caudillo will appear in court again on the morning of March 5.
Call The Bee’s Marissa Lang at (916) 321-1038. Follow her on Twitter @Marissa_Jae.