A convicted drunken driver accused of plowing through a red light in a sports car and slamming into a vehicle driven by a 27-year-old Temecula golfer, who was killed, must stand trial for second-degree murder, a judge ruled today.
Joseph Triplett III, 30, could face 15 years to life in prison if convicted in
Following a preliminary hearing at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Michael Rushton ruled there was sufficient evidence to warrant a trial for Triplett on the murder count, as well as gross vehicular manslaughter with a great bodily injury allegation.
Triplett remains jailed in lieu of $1 million bail at the Southwest Detention Center.
According to sheriff's investigators, the fatal crash occurred around 5:30 a.m. after Triplett allegedly ran a red light at Rancho California and Moraga roads.
The defendant had a blood alcohol level of .35 percent -- more than four times the legal limit to operate a motor vehicle in California -- prosecutors allege.
Hart was apparently on his way to work, headed north on Moraga, when Triplett shot through the intersection eastbound at around 60 mph in his Ford Mustang, T-boning the victim's Subaru Impreza, investigators said.
A sheriff's deputy who helped Triplett out of his vehicle said he could smell alcohol on the defendant's breath.
Triplett and Hart were rushed to Inland Valley Regional Medical Center in Wildomar. Hart died a short time later. Triplett was treated for minor injuries. He told a nurse that he had consumed several mixed drinks before getting behind the wheel that morning, investigators allege.
Hart was a semi-pro golfer who had recently married and just begun work as the operations manager for Cross Creek Golf Club in Temecula.
According to court records, Triplett was convicted in 2008 of misdemeanor DUI and was sentenced to probation. He had also been convicted in 2003 of receiving stolen property, records showed.
Under California law, a DUI offender who has received warnings against drinking and driving and the potential for deadly consequences can be charged with murder.
—City News Service