Witnesses describe crash that killed tow truck driver

SAN DIEGO - A repeat DUI offender who was allegedly drunk when he drove on the shoulder of eastbound state Route 52 near Tierrasanta and struck a tow-truck operator tending to a disabled trash truck must stand trial on murder and other charges, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Michael Gilbert Gray, 49, is accused in the February 23 death of 55-year-old Fred Griffith, a single father to three teenage boys.

Witnesses testified during a daylong preliminary hearing that they saw Gray's Ford Expedition swerve onto the shoulder of the freeway and narrowly miss a large disabled commercial trash truck before striking Griffith, who was standing outside his heavy-duty tow truck in front of the trash truck.

Austin Borghere witnessed the crash and took the stand during the hearing.

“He bounced off the trash truck and that’s where I couldn’t see everything, but I saw an object go into the air… It was him,” said Borghere.

Off-duty sheriff's Detective Mark Palmer testified that he activated his lights and siren in his vehicle and followed Gray's SUV before pulling him over a short distance down the highway.

The defendant -- who had a half-empty bottle of vodka in his car -- was still showing signs of intoxication three hours after the crash, said Deputy District Attorney Cally Bright. Authorities said Gray's blood-alcohol content was .27 percent -- more than three times the legal limit for driving -- at the time of the accident.

Gray -- who has three prior DUIs dating back to 1999 and a felony conviction for committing a lewd act on a child -- faces 30 years to life in prison if convicted of murder, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and leaving the scene of the crash. His last DUI was in 2013, Bright said.

Judge Kathleen Lewis found that enough evidence was presented in the preliminary hearing to order Gray to stand trial. A Superior Court arraignment was set for June 28.