Repeat offender admits to DUI in crash that killed tow-truck driver

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SAN DIEGO -- A repeat DUI offender who was drunk when he drove on the shoulder of eastbound state Route 52 near Tierrasanta, striking a tow- truck operator tending to a disabled trash truck, pleaded guilty Thursday to second-degree murder.

Michael Gilbert Gray, who has three previous DUIs dating back to 1999, also admitted two serious felony prior convictions. He's scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 19 to 15 years to life, plus 10 years behind bars.

Charges of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and leaving the scene of the Feb. 23, 2017, collision were dismissed as part of the plea agreement.

Witnesses testified during a preliminary hearing last year 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 Fred Griffith, who was standing outside his heavy-duty tow truck in front of the trash truck. The 55-year-old victim was a single father to three teenage boys.

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 50-year-old 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 -- at the time of the accident. His last DUI was in 2013, Bright said.

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