A Southern California man was convicted of second-degree murder on Wednesday for fatally running down an off-duty fire captain in Mission Viejo, California, while under the influence of drugs in November 2018.
Stephen Taylor Scarpa, 28, was on methamphetamine, fentanyl, downers and stimulants when he lost consciousness, drove up on the sidewalk and struck Costa Mesa Fire Department Captain Mike Kreza, 44, who was out for a Saturday morning bike ride along the Alicia Parkway in Orange County, City News Service reported, citing prosecutors.
Kreza, a father of three and an 18-year veteran of the department, died after two days in the hospital.
“The victim in this case mattered,” District Attorney Todd Spitzer said in a statement after Scarpa’s conviction, according to the Orange County Register. “He mattered to his loved ones, his co-workers at the Costa Mesa Fire Department, the community he served, and he mattered to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. Mike Kreza is not a statistic. He was a husband and he was a father to three little girls who have to grow up without him. No child should have to be told that their daddy isn’t coming home because of the selfish decision of someone to get behind the wheel while under the influence.”
Scarpa was charged with murder rather than a lesser charge like vehicular manslaughter because of the “implied malice” in what the prosecution called his reckless disregard for human life, according to the newspaper.
“If you get so high you pass out behind the wheel and kill someone, you end up exactly where Mr. Scarpa is sitting,” Senior Deputy District Attorney Dan Feldman said during the trial, describing Scarpa as having a “drug cabinet” in his system, the news service reported.
The prosecution said Scarpa should have known better because he previously worked at a drug rehabilitation center before losing his job due to a relapse, the Register reported.
The defense portrayed the crash as a “tragic accident” and argued he believed he was OK to drive back to the grandparent’s house where he lived. Scarpa had been partying for three days when he decided to drive home.
“What happened happened in a split second in time,” defense attorney Rudy Loewenstein said. “He fell asleep for a fraction of a second.” He called the crash a “perfect storm of events.”
The jury reached the verdict after two days of deliberations.
Scarpa faces 15 years to life in prison. His sentencing is set for December.