Woman accused of being high when she hit cyclists to stand trial

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SAN DIEGO -- A motorist who was allegedly on drugs when she drove into a group of cyclists on Fiesta Island last summer, critically injuring one rider, was ordered Thursday to stand trial on a felony charge of driving under the influence of drugs causing injury and two misdemeanor counts.

Theresa Lynn Owens, 50, faces up to 18 years in state prison if convicted of the felony charge. She will be arraigned in Superior Court on June 4.

Owens was driving the wrong way on a one-way road about 6:30 p.m. last Aug. 12 when her car plowed into a group of 16-20 cyclists, hitting 10 of the riders head-on, according to Deputy District Attorney Jessica Coto.

Witnesses said the defendant got out of her car and appeared to be under the influence of drugs, screaming and acting erratically. She was taken to a hospital, where a baggie of methamphetamine was found in a body cavity, the prosecutor said.

One of the cyclists, Juan Carlos Vinolo, was left permanently paralyzed from the chest down.

Vinolo, 44, testified Thursday that he was riding near the front of the pack -- traveling about 24 miles per hour -- when Owens came around a blind corner and plowed into him and others -- sending him into the defendant's windshield.

"I kept telling everyone around me, I can't feel my legs,'' Vinolo testified. "I didn't feel pain. I didn't feel numbness. I didn't feel anything.''

A number of other cyclists testified about their injuries.

San Diego police Officer Mariusz Czas said he interviewed Owens at the crash scene. He said she admitted taking methamphetamine that morning for back pain and took responsibility for the collision.

He quoted her as saying, "It is my fault. I came (drove) the wrong way.''

The officer estimated Owens was going 30-35 mph prior to the crash.

Judge Jeffrey Fraser found that enough evidence was presented at the preliminary hearing for Owens to stand trial on the felony charge, along with one misdemeanor count each of possession of methamphetamine and driving under the influence of drugs -- the latter charge from a separate arrest last July 20.

The defendant was on probation for misdemeanor disturbing the peace when she was arrested in the Fiesta Island crash, the prosecutor said.

Story by Kelly Wheeler of City News Service