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Drunk driver found guilty of murder following fatal American Canyon wreck
Criminal Justice

Drunk driver found guilty of murder following fatal American Canyon wreck

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A 43-year-old Napa man may face life in prison after a jury found him guilty of murder in Napa County Superior Court last Thursday afternoon.

After only one day of deliberations, a jury found Oscar Tapia Felix – the man who killed 69-year-old Rosalina Abalos Punieg Perez while drunk driving in America Canyon back in 2015 – guilty of murder, evading a peace officer causing death and gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.

There was never any question whether or not Tapia Felix was responsible for Perez’s death – his own defense attorney, Ji-Hyun Cho, said during closing arguments on Wednesday that he took responsibility for her death, just not her murder.

Deputy District Attorney Agnes Dziadur disagreed.

On Oct. 24, 2015, Tapia Felix, now 43, left Mi Zacatecas Family Restaurant in American Canyon around 11:24 p.m. after drinking at least 11 beers, got into his pickup truck and started to drive. Not only did Tapia Felix have a blood alcohol content of at least .20 percent – more than twice the legal limit of .08 percent – but he had been kicked out of the restaurant and told not to drive by both a friend and security at the bar, Dziadur said.

While leaving the parking lot, Tapia Felix’s vehicle collided with two parked cars and he drove down a nearby embankment before entering into a high-speed chase with an American Canyon Police Officer, Dziadur said.

Tapia Felix was speeding, running stop signs and driving without his headlights on, she said. The jury could see his driving for themselves in a police video of the chase.

Over the course of just a few minutes, Tapia Felix’s truck could also be seen driving over a center median, travelling up to 86 mph northbound on Highway 29 and, finally, running a red light, smashing almost head-on into a minivan turning onto Eucalyptus Drive from Highway 29 South at about 11:30 p.m.

Inside the vehicle was Perez – a San Jose woman who worked as a nurse at Napa State Hospital. Perez died on impact when her minivan was hit. Authorities reported that she was on her way home from work.

Cho argued that Tapia Felix was guilty of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated but not second degree murder which implied that he had malice.

Cho said that Tapia Felix didn’t intend to hurt anyone and that he may not have fully understood the risk he was taking when choosing to drive drunk that night. He was too drunk to make good decisions, she said.

“Mr. Tapia Felix was reckless that night,” she said. “His driving pattern shows that he’s not all there.”

Being “too drunk” isn’t a defense for murder, Dziadur argued.

“This wasn’t his first rodeo,” she said. Tapia Felix has had three DUI convictions – in 1999 and 2002 in Arizona and in 2007 in Napa County. During the last conviction, she said, Tapia Felix was told that if he continued to drive under the influence and killed someone that he may be charged with murder. He even took a six-month DUI class, she said.

The idea that he didn’t understand the risk of drunk driving or didn’t know it was dangerous to human life was “laughable,” Dziadur said.

“How many times does it take?” she asked. “Somebody had to die for his wake-up call? His wake up call should have been in 1999.”

Following Thursday’s verdict, Tapia Felix remained in custody of the Napa County jail. His sentencing is scheduled for April 5.

The murder conviction alone carries a punishment of 15 years to life in state prison.

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Maria Sestito is the former Napa Valley Register public safety reporter. She now writes for the Register as a freelancer.

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