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O.C. prosecutor outlines case in death of deputy

The L.A. County lawman was crushed by a big rig while trying to avoid a stove that fell onto the 91 Freeway.

April 23, 2008|H.G. Reza | Times Staff Writer

An Orange County prosecutor Tuesday asked a jury to convict a Long Beach man of murder for causing the death of a sheriff's deputy. An allegedly stolen stove had fallen out of the man's truck, causing a cement truck to swerve and land on top of the deputy's department-issued car.

Cole Allen Wilkins, 31, shook his head when Deputy Dist. Atty. Mike Murray asked for a murder conviction in his opening statement to the jury. Wilkins is charged with murder and receipt of stolen property.

"The evidence is going to show this was no accident. It was murder," Murray said at the outset.

On July 7, 2006, Wilkins was driving a Ford F-250 loaded with appliances he allegedly had stolen from a house being built in Menafee, in Riverside County, Murray said. With the tailgate down, the oven fell off the truck as he drove west in the fast lane of the 91 Freeway near the Kraemer Boulevard exit in Anaheim.

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy David Piquette, 34, of Corona was driving to work at 5 a.m. At least two vehicles ahead of him hit the oven but the drivers were unhurt. The deputy and other drivers swerved to avoid it. The cement truck also swerved, but landed on top of Piquette's car, crushing him.

In his brief statement, defense attorney Joseph T. Vodnoy argued that Piquette's death was a tragic accident, not murder.

"I guess the theory is that my client, when he loaded the truck, intended it to fall off and have somebody killed. It's ridiculous," Vodnoy said.

He challenged the prosecution's assertion that a murder charge against Wilkins is warranted because Piquette was killed during the commission of a felony.

Though Wilkins was many miles from Menafee when the deputy was killed, the defendant was still in the process of committing a burglary, said district attorney spokeswoman Farrah Emami.

Vodnoy said Dr. Kathleen Trivich, an emergency room physician and close friend of Wilkins, will testify that he called her about five hours before the freeway crash and said that he had purchased the appliances.

Richard Harbison, Wilkins' uncle and employer, said outside the courtroom that his nephew had told him he bought a refrigerator, dishwasher, microwave oven, fans and other boxed home hardware from "somebody in a Home Depot parking lot."

But Murray told jurors Wilkins had stolen the items after he saw them delivered to a home near two houses where he had been working for his uncle, who owns a drywall installation business.

Murray said Wilkins intended to use them at a house that he and the doctor had planned to build in Palm Springs.

A man who was driving behind Wilkins when the oven fell off the truck got him to stop by flashing his lights and honking his horn for a short distance.

Wilkins gave the man a phony name and two false telephone numbers and did not produce a driver's license or registration for the truck, Murray said. Wilkins also threatened the man, the prosecutor said.

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hgreza@latimes.com

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