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Pleas entered in fatal crash

Two California men have pleaded guilty in Jackson County Circuit Court to charges stemming from a Nov. 1 drive-by shooting in Central Point, car chase and fatal crash.

Miguel Angel Carbajal, 20, the driver of the Chevy Impala from which the shots were fired, pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted murder, first-degree manslaughter, felony attempting to elude police in a vehicle and driving under the influence of intoxicants. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Francisco Javier Campos, 19, whose prints were found on the magazine of a 9 mm handgun used in the shooting, pleaded guilty to two counts of criminal conspiracy to commit murder. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Both are responsible for paying $430,000 in restitution to the victims.

Judge Benjamin Bloom asked both men whether they had comments before their pleas were accepted. Neither spoke.

Bloom said life was lost and those responsible must be punished. Chief Deputy District Attorney Beth Heckert said she was pleased with the resolution.

"This was a complicated case and the (perpetrators) were uncooperative," Heckert said.

Questions remain about what exactly happened at about 4 a.m. Nov. 1, when Carbajal slowly pulled his Impala alongside an Isuzu on Beall Lane. Someone inside the Impala fired three shots at Erik Lee Dorey, 22, of Gold Hill, and his girlfriend, Jennifer Knutson, 19, of Central Point. Dorey was struck in the jaw. Knutson felt a bullet graze past the back of her head, Heckert said.

It remains unknown whether the shooting was a gang initiation exercise, a case of mistaken identity or whether they "just wanted to put that fear into people," Heckert said.

"They just kept lying to police and saying they didn't know who had shot the gun," she said.

Both victims recovered from their injuries. But not everyone escaped the evening's events alive.

As Carbajal raced away after the shooting, he ran a red light on Highway 99. An Oregon State Police trooper who happened to be nearby began a pursuit. Speeds were clocked at between 80 and 120 mph, Heckert said. Carbajal finally crashed in the 8200 block of Old Stage Road. Carbajal and Campos were able to crawl from the wreckage.

One of the other two passengers in the car, Gustavo Santiago, 16, of Central Point, was thrown from the vehicle and died.

The fourth passenger, 20-year-old Gabriel Perez of Medford, fled the crash scene.

"We don't know if (Perez) was able to crawl away too or if he was ejected," Heckert said.

Santiago's mother, Marta Meraz, wept at the sentencing. Meraz said she didn't want to see those responsible ever released from prison.

"I don't think they deserve to step on streets again," Meraz sobbed. "What you did to my family, you destroyed my family."

Heckert praised police for walking the route along Old Stage Road and finding the weapon.

"Police worked hard on this case," she said.

Carbajal was charged with the two counts of attempted murder because he drove the car in a manner that allowed the shooting to occur. He was charged with first-degree manslaughter because his driving caused the wreck that killed Santiago. The driving under the influence charge arose because Carbajal had cocaine in his system, Heckert said.

Campos' two counts of criminal conspiracy to commit murder are because his fingerprints were found on the gun's magazine. He originally was held simply as a material witness. Had police not found the gun, Campos could not have been charged, she said.

"We don't know if he was the shooter," Heckert said. "But he at least handled that gun."

Perez, a known gang member and sex offender, was arrested in May on unrelated parole violation charges. Perez could not be charged in this case at this time, Heckert said, adding that while Perez was in the car, prosecutors could not prove he played an active role in the shooting under Oregon law.

Perez could be charged later as the shooter if further evidence is uncovered within the statute of limitations, she said.

Or it could have been Santiago who shot that night, Heckert said.

Carbajal's defense attorney, John Eckrem, said his client and Campos came to the Rogue Valley from a small town in California. He admitted Carbajal was out looking for a fight that night. But his client was expecting to get in a fistfight, Eckrem said.

"He didn't realize they were out looking for armed trouble," Eckrem said, describing Carbajal's actions as "an unfortunate result of some poor decision making."

The court also ordered Carbajal and Campos to pay $430,000 in restitution for medical costs for Dorey and Knutson. Dorey was airlifted to a Portland hospital to be treated for his injuries. Knutson suffered only minor injuries, mostly from broken glass. Both are doing well, Heckert said.

Neither victim showed up for Wednesday's sentencing. Heckert said they agreed with the plea bargain and the prison terms.

"They just want to get on with their lives and put this behind them," she said.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.

John Eckrem, Miguel Carbajal's defense attorney, speaks Wednesday in Jackson County Circuit Court. Carbajal pleaded guilty to attempted murder and other charges stemming from a Nov. 1 drive-by shooting in Central Point. - Julia Moore