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Elderly DUI defendant fails to appear in court again

An 84-year-old Palm Desert man charged in a crash that injured a 10-year-old boy failed to appear in court Monday for the fourth time, prompting the judge to re-issue a bench warrant for his arrest and double his bail.

News Channel 3 and CBS Local 2 were in the courtroom when the warrant was released for Malcolm Ross Paterson. Paterson’s bail was raised from $90,000 to $180,000 at the prosecution’s request, meaning he will be jailed on that amount of bail when he is arrested.

Paterson also failed to appear on Wednesday of last week. Riverside County Superior Court Judge Dale Wells issued a bench warrant for Paterson’s arrest on Oct. 22, but agreed to hold it until Monday. Paterson’s attorney said his client missed the last two appearances because of health issues.

The judge would have dismissed the warrant if Paterson had come to court Monday.

Judge Wells addressed the health issues in court while issuing the bench warrant. “While I am sympathetic to the representation that he is ill, there is no evidence of his illness,” said Wells. “I said get him here by ambulance if necessary. Show up with some evidence why he can’t be here. The bench warrant is doubled. $180,000 is released. “

Defense attorney Geoffrey Yaryan said outside court last week that “we’ll get him in by ambulance if we have to.” He said his client was in a lot of pain and having difficulty walking. He said today he didn’t know why Paterson failed to appear.

“They knew, they were told, to be here. I left a message to that effect. I called yesterday and this morning and I left a voice message. No response. I am certain it has something to do with his medical condition,” Yaryan said. He said he hadn’t been able to reach his client or his wife over the last two days.

KESQ/CBS Local 2 spoke with Paterson’s wife on Wednesday after he failed to appear to court for the third time. Evelyn Paterson said her husband began showing signs of dementia after he crashed into the Lincoln Elementary School playground in Palm Desert in October of 2013.

Paterson is charged with a felony count of driving under the influence causing injury, along with a sentence-enhancing allegation of great bodily injury, for the crash that injured then-10-year-old Lincoln Elementary School student Adrian Grajeda.

Paterson also failed to appear at a court hearing in July, but his attorney said he was confused about the date.

Paterson remains free on his own recognizance, with certain conditions. He cannot drive, drink alcohol or go to bars or liquor stores, and he must submit to chemical tests requested by law enforcement, according to the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office.

Paterson was driving a Chevrolet Cruze south on Portola Avenue, approaching a red light at Magnesia Falls Drive, about 9:50 a.m. Oct. 23, 2013, when he “mistakenly pressed the accelerator rather than the brake pedal when approaching traffic stopped at an intersection,” according to prosecutors.

Then he “pressed harder on the accelerator without realizing his mistake,” according to a declaration filed in support of an arrest warrant. Paterson’s car collided with another vehicle, veered onto a sidewalk, crashed into a traffic signal and finally struck the steel perimeter fence of Abraham Lincoln Elementary School on Rutledge Way in Palm Desert.

Debris from the crash struck Adrian, who was airlifted to a hospital, where his right leg was amputated. Other students were outside at the time, but no one else was hurt. Paterson stayed at the scene, according to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.

Though a blood test showed Paterson’s blood-alcohol level was .04 percent, below the legal limit of 0.08 percent, his “actions throughout the events of the collision, combined with his measured (alcohol level), led me to believe that alcohol contributed to a mental impairment, making him unable to operate a motor vehicle in a safe manner,” sheriff’s Deputy John Cleary wrote in the declaration.

Deputy District Attorney Hawlee Valente said last week that an additional charge — a felony count of reckless driving causing injury — would be filed against Paterson.

Last April, Adrian’s mother filed a negligence lawsuit against Paterson, alleging that he knew or should have known that he was “unfit and/or incompetent to operate the subject vehicle given he was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident.” The suit asks for unspecified damages.

KESQ News Team

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