A judge ordered that a man who was driving under the influence when he caused a fatal collision be taken into custody after he entered guilty pleas to charges of manslaughter and driving under the extreme influence of alcohol.
Christopher Peirce made the admissions during a change-of-plea hearing Thursday morning in Yuma County Superior Court before Superior Court Judge Roger Nelson. He has a pre-sentence hearing scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on March 19.
Peirce’s defense attorney Joshua Tesoriero of the Yuma County Public Defender’s Office had asked that his client be allowed to remain out of custody, saying he has appeared at all of his previous court hearings and that they had stayed in constant contact. Judge Nelson, however, denied the request.
During the hearing, Nelson asked Peirce a series of questions as he took him through the plea agreements, making sure he understood what was happening. He also informed him that the manslaughter charge carried a sentence of 7 to 21 years in prison, with the presumptive sentence being 10-1/2 years.
Nelson further explained that probation was available and that the plea offer also contained a stipulation that he be sentenced to no less than 13 years in prison.
Peirce, however, faces potentially more than 13 years the plea offer stipulates to because the pre-sentence - otherwise known as an aggravation/mitigation hearing - allows the prosecutors the chance to present evidence for the court to consider in an attempt to harshen the sentence
As for the DUI plea offer, Judge Nelson told Peirce that it carried a stipulation that he pay a $4,500 fine and serve 30 days in the Yuma County jail, with all but 10 days suspended upon the completion of substance abuse treatment. The sentences are to be served consecutively - meaning one after the other.
In return for his guilty pleas, charges of second-degree murder, aggravated assault, leaving the scene of an accident involving death and driving under the influence of alcohol were dismissed.
According to the Yuma Police Department, at about 10:40 p.m. on May 18, officers responded to a motor vehicle collision in the 4500 block of West 16th Street.
The initial investigation into the accident revealed that a 2016 Freightliner 16M Rollback tow truck, driven by Peirce, rear ended a gray 2006 Nissan Sentra, occupied by a 70-year-old man and a 66-year-old woman.
The woman, later identified as Maria Patch died at the scene, while the man was taken to Yuma Regional Medical Center in critical condition. A total of seven 911 calls were made in relation to Peirce’s driving on the night of the incident. He was arrested about a mile away from the scene.
Two of the victim’s family members also spoke at the hearing, saying they take issue with the plea offers. They said that the original plea offer given to Peirce was for second-degree murder and they believe it still should be.
Maria Patch’s husband, John was one of the family members who spoke. He said Peirce’s blood alcohol was over .20 the night of the crash - the legal limit is .08 - he was working at the time, and he did not have his headlights on at the time of the crash.