Repeat offender goes on trial for fatal DUI crash that killed 2 friends

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EL CAJON, Calif. -- A repeat DUI offender chose to drive drunk at high speeds down a curving Campo roadway, causing a crash that killed his two passengers, a prosecutor said Thursday, while a defense attorney said her client drove recklessly but without the intent needed to convict him of the second- degree murder charges he faces.

Ryan Renz, 26, is charged with murder, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and other charges stemming from the Jan. 25, 2017, crash that killed his friends, 23-year-old Johnny Ray Meyer Jr. and 26-year-old Dillon Cody Wiltfong.

Prosecutors allege Renz -- who was on probation and driving on a suspended license due to a prior DUI conviction -- was drunk when he crashed Wiltfong's Volkswagen Jetta into a tree on Buckman Springs Road, near Lake Morena Drive, in the evening hours of Jan. 25.

One of the victims was ejected and the other was trapped inside the vehicle, while Renz suffered minor injuries.

Deputy District Attorney Laura Evans said in her opening statement that Renz and the victims drank throughout the afternoon of Jan. 25 before Renz got behind the wheel and drove somewhere between 85 to 96 mph down Buckman Springs Road, then crashed into an oak tree. The passenger's side of the Jetta - - where both Meyer and Wiltfong were sitting -- took the brunt of the crash, according to the prosecutor.

Evans said the high speeds of the Jetta caught the attention of Border Patrol officers stationed near the scene, some of whom pursued the sedan, but were unable to stop it before the crash. Officers arrived to a "very violent scene," in which the Jetta was found overturned and on fire, Evans said.

"From the way it looked it exploded, it just came all to pieces," said one Border Patrol agent, who took the witness stand on Thursday.

The agent described an emotional scene as he saw Renz crawling out of the vehicle. "The person was yelling, screaming, wanting to know where the people in the vehicle were, where his friends were at," the agent said. "I believe he actually stated at one time that he had killed his friends."

Mechanical issues were ruled out as a potential cause of the crash by California Highway Patrol investigators, according to the prosecutor.

Defense attorney Audrey Kyu called the crash "a terrible tragedy," but said the evidence would show her client did not have the conscious disregard for human life necessary for a murder conviction. Kyu said all three men willingly got into the vehicle and came to the decision that Renz was best suited to drive.

Evans argued that Renz's prior DUI conviction -- which occurred about a year prior to the deadly crash -- proved his disregard for his passengers' safety.

"The defendant knew he shouldn't have driven and he just didn't care," the prosecutor said.

Renz faces up to 30 years to life behind bars if convicted of all charges. He remains in custody in lieu of $3 million bail.

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