Officer’s flawed testimony leads to mistrial in fatal pot DUI
SAN DIEGO — An issue with an officer’s testimony prompted a judge to declare a mistrial Thursday in the case of a woman accused of causing a marijuana-related collision near Scripps Ranch that killed a passenger in another car.
A new trial date is expected to be set Monday.
Hyun Jeong Choi, 36, is charged with second-degree murder, gross vehicular manslaughter and DUI with drugs in the March 27, 2016, crash that killed 43-year-old Amanda Walzer and left her fiance, 49-year-old Jon Warshawsky, with a traumatic brain injury.
During testimony in the trial’s first day Wednesday, an officer implied that he saw Choi in her vehicle after the accident fumbling with a marijuana pipe, trying to hide it.
That information was not in any report and contradicted his partner’s testimony that preceded him, according to defense attorney Stephen Cline.
When pressed, the officer claimed he wrote a report on the incident but that it had been “lost” and was not in any system maintained by the San Diego Police Department.
Superior Court Judge Lorna Alksne ordered prosecutor Andrew Aguilar to investigate the matter, and he told the court there was no record of any such report.
Alksne ordered a mistrial rather than strike the officer’s testimony out of concern the jury would not be able to put it out of their minds, Cline said.
In his opening statement Wednesday, Aguilar told the jury that Choi pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol in 2013 and was given several warnings about the dangers of driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
“She knew better,” the prosecutor told the jury.
Aguilar said that just before the fatal collision, Choi had smoked marijuana she purchased at a nearby dispensary.
An open bag of marijuana and a freshly used marijuana pipe were found in the defendant’s vehicle after the crash, the prosecutor said.
After she was released from the hospital, Choi admitted she “tried to fight it” and “tried to get home” after smoking the marijuana she had just bought.
Cline told the jury that Choi made a “naive and negligent mistake” by purchasing what she thought was the same kind of medical marijuana she had used before to calm her social anxiety.
When Choi returned from traveling overseas, her usual dispensary was gone and she purchased what she thought was the same type of marijuana that had helped her before from a dispensary in the Miramar area, Cline said.
The attorney said there were no warnings about the strength and potency of the marijuana, which had an immediate impact on Choi.
“She had no idea what she left that store with,” her attorney said. “She was impaired. Catastrophically impaired.”
Cline said Choi was not guilty of murder.
Witness Regis Kodzi testified that he and his wife were traveling on Pomerado Road behind Warshawsky’s vintage 1956 Porsche when Choi’s Toyota Corolla crossed a center divide and hit the Porsche head-on about 5:30 p.m.