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Witnesses tell of ruthless road rage attack
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Jeffrey Connell, 34, is escorted out of the Manteca Branch of the San Joaquin County Superior Court by a court bailiff at the end of his preliminary hearing on four felony charges related to a June 11 road rage incident . - photo by GLENN KAHL/ The Bulletin

A Tracy motorist was ordered to stand trial for his part in a June 11 road rage incident on Highway 99.

Judge Franklin Stephenson upped suspect’s bail to $1.7 million following a Thursday morning preliminary hearing in the Manteca courthouse.

James Galindez, 26, of Lathrop was injured critically in the confrontation on the freeway. He is expected to be transferred to a rehab hospital in the coming days. He has had a plate inserted into his neck and is suffering from paralysis from his neck down, according to family members.

Following nearly two hours of testimony from officers and witnesses Jeffrey Connell, 34, was ordered by Judge Stephenson to be returned to county jail in French Camp in lieu of a bond of $1.7 million, saying he was a definite flight risk if released from custody.

The judge set a trial date as of July 9 in Department 35 of the San Joaquin County Superior Court in Stockton saying there was reason to believe the charges were accurate and made note of his past history with ignoring orders from the court.

A Stockton Police officer assigned to the San Joaquin County “DELTARAT” Auto Theft Task Force was the first to testify. He said he was driving south on Highway 99 when the road rage collision and rollover occurred just south of French Camp Road.  He said he observed the tan blazer rolling over multiple times atop the chain link security fence that separated the freeway from a frontage road.

The Stockton detective said he turned on his emergency lights and stopped at the crash scene to offer help but when he found a nurse with the injured driver, he activated his lights and siren and proceeded down the freeway to where another motorist in a red pickup had blocked the suspect vehicle on the side of the road.

The drivers of both trucks were standing next to the passenger door of the suspect black Ford-150.

 “I asked Connell if he had been involved in a crash and he said that he had,” the detetcive testified. 

The Stockton officer said there was heavy damage to the right front of the black pickup along with scratches down its right side with a flattened tire, also on the right front.  He stood by while a CHP officer continued his investigation well beyond the crash site.

CHP Officer Frank McMahon – primary officer on the case – said he asked the suspect why he had kept driving quoting him as explaining that he was looking for a place to stop.  McMahon told the court that the fence continued far beyond where the suspect finally brought his pickup to a stop with little room to park anywhere.

He  said that he had interviewed a truck driver who came to him very excited saying the black Ford pickup had passed him on the right south of Arch Road well over 70 miles an hour nearly hitting a truck and trailer traveling in front of him and then cutting in front of that vehicle.

He said he watched the Ford F-150 rapidly overtaking the Blazer with the driver being very animated throwing his arms in the air inside the cab.  He also told the CHP officer he couldn’t see the Ford 150’s brake lights as it moved into the center divider and then cut back in front of the Blazer.

The officer said there were tall pylons along the roadway because of recent construction work on the highway with a portion of the freeway not yet ready for vehicle traffic.  He testified that the truck driver told him he saw the Blazer move into the number two lane when both drivers were flipping each other off with the driver of the Blazer challenging him to a fight – then accelerating down the freeway at a high rate of speed.

“It was no accident,” the officer quoted the truck driver as saying.  After the crash the driver added, “He just drove away.”

The officer said the truck driver told him he at least wanted to get the Ford-150’s license plate number and “didn’t want him to get away.”  When he caught up with the suspect, he parked near the fence in front of the fleeing pickup, according to the officer.

Another motorist, who was also southbound on Highway 99, told the officer she first saw the black Ford-150 north of Arch Road driving recklessly at high speed and passing other vehicles.  She didn’t try to follow him, the CHP officer said. 

The truck driver told the officer that the first time he saw the black Ford was when he cut in front of him coming down the freeway.

Officer McMahon told the court that the driver of the Blazer attempted to disengage the contentious hand gestures with the driver of the Ford – both drivers were reckless for a period of time, the CHP officer quoted the truck driver as saying, adding that the crash “appeared to be done on purpose.”

A CHP vehicle inspector took the stand and said he had interviewed the driver of the Blazer following surgery this week at U.C. Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.  He quoted Galindez as saying he was southbound when a big red truck came up behind him and he moved over into the outside lane to let him pass.  He added that the black Ford then passed him with the driver making hand gestures, and driving recklessly.

The inspector testified that he was told at the hospital that Galindez had several fractures including a shoulder and his right arm and his spine had been severed in two places “in what is expected to be a lifelong event,” he said.

Galindez’ fiancé and other family members were in the court room on Thursday.