Witness says defendant was driving when pickup crashed into family’s car

CHULA VISTA, Calif. -- A Mexican citizen who was deported more than a dozen times appeared in court Tuesday to face charges  of driving drunk and fleeing the scene after blowing through a stop sign and crashing his truck into a car containing a family returning home from a day at Disneyland.

Constantino Banda Acosta, 38, is charged with hit-and-run causing permanent injury, DUI causing great bodily injury and driving without a license. The crash seriously injured a 6-year-old boy. Federal immigration officials said the defendant has been deported from the United States at least 15 times over the past 15 years, most recently on Jan. 18.

Banda was speeding west on Camino de La Plaza about 11:30 p.m. May 6 when he ran a stop sign at Dairy Mart Road and crashed his pickup truck into a Honda sedan, police and prosecutors allege. He fled but was arrested about a half-hour later, police said.

“I heard tires squealing and I looked up and saw a white older model pickup truck, coming toward the side of our vehicle,” said the mother of the victim, Ingrid Rutan Lake.

Lennox Lake -- who was sitting in his car seat -- suffered a major head injury and underwent multiple surgeries at Rady Children's Hospital, his grandmother said. Doctors are "cautiously optimistic" that Lennox will make a full recovery.

“I took him out of the car. I was checking for signs that he was breathing and trying to feel a pulse. I could see that he was bleeding from his ear and his nose and his head,” his mother said.

Banda's attorney, Juliana Humphrey, said she intends to show that her client was not the driver of the pickup that smashed into the Lake's Honda that night.

However, a friend of Banda's who was in the car the night of the crash spoke through an interpreter in court and says Banda was drinking that night and the person behind the wheel.

“Mr. Banda was driving fast. He never saw the stop sign. That’s when we impacted the other vehicle," said passenger Jorge Adame.

After the preliminary hearing, a judge will decide if enough evidence was presented for Banda to stand trial.

Banda faces seven years and eight months in prison if convicted, said Deputy District Attorney Christopher Chandler.

The hearing will resume Wednesday at 9 a.m.