The man accused of plowing into and killing two teenagers near Auburn on Sunday had filled a prescription for the sleeping aid Ambien earlier that day, and five pills were missing from the bottle, a prosecutor said Thursday as the suspect pleaded not guilty in Placer Superior Court.
Philip Morris Ingram, 62, had one Ambien pill in his pocket when he was arrested along Highway 49 after the fatal collision, said Doug Van Breemen, Placer County supervising deputy district attorney.
Ingram appeared before Judge Alan Pineschi in a Roseville courtroom for his arraignment, which was continued from earlier in the week. Pineschi declined to let Ingram post bail, citing the potential threat he posed to the community.
“Our grave concern is for this defendant ever being released on bail,” said Van Breemen, who also cited Ingram’s previous conviction for drunken driving in 2000.
A breathalyzer test Sunday showed no sign of alcohol, but an officer who arrived on the scene had to stop the sobriety test twice to catch Ingram as he fell, Van Breeman added, saying the suspect’s speech was “slow and lethargic.”
This man made a choice to get behind the wheel and took a child’s life.
Dawn Vierra, mother of Jared Gaches
Jared Gaches, of Auburn, and Trevor Keller, of Foresthill, both 15 years old, were struck Sunday as they and a third friend walked northbound alongside Highway 49 just north of Auburn. A white Ford pickup truck heading south drifted into them on the roadway shoulder, authorities said.
“These innocent kids were doing nothing but being kids,” Van Breemen said.
The crash, near Locksley Lane, occurred at 5:15 p.m. Gaches died at the scene and Keller died later at a hospital. Both were students at Placer High School in Auburn.
Just before the accident, a witness had called 911 to report that Ingram’s white Ford pickup truck was driving “all over the road” through the residential neighborhood near the accident scene where Ingram lives, the prosecutor said.
Witnesses reported that Ingram merged onto Highway 49 southbound and suddenly swerved onto the shoulder where Keller, Gaches and their friend Nick Agosti, who was uninjured, were walking on their way from a nearby park to a coffee shop. The pickup then swerved across all four lanes of traffic and came to rest on a shoulder of the northbound side of the freeway.
A drug identification expert called to the scene said Ingram appeared to be under the influence of a central nervous system depressant, and investigators subsequently discovered he had prescriptions for Ambien and for powerful pain killers Vicodin, OxyContin and hydromorphone, as well as for Ritalin, a stimulant used to treat attention-deficit disorder, the prosecutor told the judge.
The 60-pill bottle of Ambien that Ingram had picked up from a pharmacy earlier that day had only 54 pills in it, plus the pill found in his pocket, leaving five unaccounted for, Van Breemen said.
Ingram was charged with two felony counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while under the influence of drugs. He pleaded not guilty Thursday in Roseville after being unable to understand another judge Tuesday in Auburn because the batteries in his hearing aids had failed. His bail, set at $575,000, was revoked in that hearing because he was deemed a public-safety threat.
On Thursday, Ingram’s public defender Ernie Minner told the judge that prosecutors had insufficient evidence to charge his client with driving under the influence. The results of toxicology tests hadn’t come back yet, and there were no other conclusive findings that Ingram had drugs in his system when he hit the teenagers.
Mr. Ingram feels horrible about the tragic accident that has occurred.
Public defender Ernie Minner
“There is absolutely zero proof of that,” Minner said.
Ingram’s prior conviction for driving under the influence happened 16 years ago, and he tested barely over the legal limit for alcohol, the lawyer said.
“Mr. Ingram feels horrible about the tragic accident that has occurred,” Minner said.
Ingram, a retired drywall finisher, has long-standing ties to Auburn and the Sacramento area, including adult children who attended this week’s hearings, Minner said, arguing that he isn’t a flight risk or a public danger. The defense lawyer asked the judge to reinstate bail at $575,000 or a lower amount.
Pineschi disagreed. He found that Ingram should remain in jail, without bail, at least until the results of the toxicology tests come back. That could take weeks, prosecutors said.
The judge’s decision was met with an outburst of applause from the victims’ families. The victims’ mothers, and Gaches’ father, had pleaded with the judge to keep Ingram incarcerated.
“This man made a choice to get behind the wheel and took a child’s life,” said Dawn Vierra, mother of Jared Gaches.