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Conviction caps 1996 accident

July 28, 2007|Sara Lin and Maeve Reston | Times Staff Writers

A San Bernardino County judge Friday found a Rialto man guilty of vehicular manslaughter in a street racing accident that occurred 11 years ago.

The facts of Monty Gill's case were not in dispute during the one-day trial.

Gill's lawyers asked Superior Court Judge Arthur A. Harrison to drop the case, arguing that the district attorney's office was improperly prosecuting Gill on the basis of an amendment to California law passed five months after the crash that left a 52-year-old woman in a persistent vegetative state and eventually caused her death.

At the time of the April 1996 accident, a driver could be charged with vehicular manslaughter if a victim died within three years and a day. The Legislature later amended the law and gave prosecutors more time to file the charge, as long as they could prove that the death resulted from the accident.

Harrison said the changed law does apply in Gill's case. But he also commended Gill -- who has been in custody for six months -- for staying out of trouble since the accident and said he would probably sentence him to probation.

"This is a very unusual case," Harrison said. "I don't want to minimize the family's loss. This matter will be addressed at sentencing" on Sept. 14.

The husband of victim Florence Thompson said after the hearing Friday that he was not "a vindictive husband trying to grind [Gill] into the ground for the rest of his life."

"I want to see the law is done right. It wasn't the first time," said Michael Thompson, 67, of San Bernardino. "Today when I looked at Monty and his parents, knowing where he has been -- in jail -- I felt sorry for him. And I wished for him and for Flo that none of this happened."

Gill, now 42, was driving his 1976 Corvette in San Bernardino when he took on the driver of a pickup truck in a street race and lost control.

His car crossed the roadway into oncoming traffic and hit Thompson, who was driving home from work.

Gill pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge related to street racing and served 15 days in jail.

When Thompson's family took her off a respirator in April 2006 and she died, prosecutors decided to pursue the vehicular manslaughter charge.

Gill's lawyer, James Gass, said prosecutors reopened the case because Thompson's family thought Gill's initial sentence was too light. Gass said he planned to appeal the case.

"I think they see this as a chance to make up for a mistake," Gass said.

But Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Ben Gonzales said the charge was brought because the law was changed within three years of the accident.

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sara.lin@latimes.com

maeve.reston@latimes.com

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