Not guilty plea from ex-con accused in fatal hit-and-run crash - San Diego, California Talk Radio Station - 760 KFMB AM - 760kfmb

Not guilty plea from ex-con accused in fatal hit-and-run crash

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EL CAJON (CNS) - An ex-con who allegedly fled after running down a 20-year-old man walking home from work in Spring Valley last weekend pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges of gross vehicular manslaughter and hit-and-run causing death.

Jason Michael Palmer, 33, was ordered held on $1.5 million bail. He faces 20 years in prison if convicted, said Deputy District Attorney Cally Bright.

"It's a very, very sad case," Bright told reporters after Wednesday's arraignment. "We have family from out of town, the funeral is this weekend. They are devastated."

Investigators are trying to determine if Palmer -- who was convicted in 2000 of misdemeanor DUI and hit-and-run -- was under the influence of alcohol or drugs when he allegedly slammed into Jacob Greenwald about 3:45 a.m. Sunday.

California Highway Patrol Officer Kevin Pearlstein said earlier that alcohol and/or drugs appeared to have been a factor in the crash.

Bright said Palmer has been to prison three times -- for attempted robbery, receiving stolen property and possessing a vehicle that didn't belong to him -- and was recently released from custody. Palmer was then released from some sort of halfway house, according to the prosecutor.

"This is really troubling that this guy is free and able to commit crimes over and over again, seemingly with no consequences," said San Diego resident Suzanne Finch, one of Palmer's previous victims.

In Finch's case, Palmer - who also goes by the name Jason Gore -- had stolen a $60 check written by Finch from a mailbox in Mission Hills in 2010 and "washed it": essentially erasing everything on it except for Finch's signature and making it out for $400.

"Then he put his own name on it, cashed it with his own California drivers license and of course had a myriad of security cameras looking right at him cashing this check," Finch told CBS News 8. "There was no question who was guilty about this."

Court documents show Palmer, on parole at the time, pleaded guilty to only two of six counts in this case, but served no time.

"This guy is already on parole, he clearly is victimizing people: What does it take to get this guy in prison?" Finch asked.

Authorities said Jacob Greenwald was walking home from his job at McDonald's on a sidewalk on Campo Road when a Toyota 4Runner -- allegedly driven by Palmer -- struck and killed him. The 4Runner's front license plate was left behind, near the victim's body, Pearlstein said.

The 4Runner turned up about 9:30 a.m., parked near Interstate 805 and Aero Drive in Serra Mesa. Palmer was spotted in the area and arrested a short time later, according to Pearlstein.

A readiness conference was set for Nov. 7 and a preliminary hearing for Nov. 13.

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