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Retrial postponed for man charged in racing crash that killed 80-year-old

Retrial proceedings were postponed Tuesday for a Palm Springs man partly responsible for killing an 81-year-old woman in a street racing crash in Rancho Mirage, while a retrial date awaits the convicted felon who caused the wreck.

Scott Daniel Bahls, 34, was found guilty in October 2016, along with 37-year-old Wade Wheeler, for the death of Barbara Schmitz three years earlier.

An Indio jury deadlocked 10-2 in favor of convicting the defendants of second-degree murder, but the panel found the pair guilty of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, reckless driving resulting in great bodily injury to a person over 70 years old and engaging in an illegal speed contest.

Bahls was also convicted of hit-and-run resulting in death because he fled.

Prosecutors immediately decided to retry the men on the murder charge. However, retrial proceedings have been repeatedly delayed over the last nearly three years, during which time the men’s cases were severed.

At a status hearing this morning before Riverside County Superior Court Judge Anthony Villalobos, Bahls’ retrial was scheduled for Nov. 15 at the Larson Justice Center. The judge also put over to that date a hearing to consider a defense motion for a new trial on the counts for which Bahls was
convicted.

Meantime, Wheeler is slated to appear before Villalobos for a retrial status conference on Dec. 6. It is unknown when his retrial may start.

There’s a possibility the court may go ahead with sentencing the pair on the charged on which they were convicted, but that’s unlikely until the murder charge is disposed either way.

Bahls is being held in lieu of $1 million at the Byrd Detention Center in Murrieta, while Wheeler is being held on the same amount at the Smith Correctional Facility in Banning.

The crash occurred on June 18, 2013, during a four-mile street race that began on Date Palm Drive in Cathedral City, according to police and prosecutors.

Deputy District Attorney Dan Fox told jurors that the defendants were driving in excess of 70 mph along Highway 111 before Wheeler’s BMW crashed into the side of the victims’ Ford Focus as Schmitz’s husband Gerald was turning left onto Dunes View Road from the highway.

The compact car was catapulted skyward and rolled several times before coming to rest at a gas station near the intersection.

Barbara Schmitz died at Eisenhower Medical Center about two hours later. Her husband suffered numerous injuries, including a brain hemorrhage, broken ribs and fractures to his vertebra, ankle, tibia, fibula and pelvis. Wheeler suffered a broken right leg.

Fox said the defendants were cognizant of the risk they were taking — an element necessary to prove implied malice needed for a second-degree murder conviction.

Bahls’ then-attorney, Stephanie Arrache, told jurors there was no evidence the men were involved in a street race. Arrache and Wheeler’s former attorney, Rodney Soda, said the evidence only showed that Schmitz was at fault and had more than enough time to gauge oncoming traffic before making his turn
but didn’t.

Fox, however, said Schmitz properly reckoned the distance between him and the defendants’ cars, but could not have anticipated the speed at which they were approaching.

Schmitz testified he had no memory of what occurred leading up to and immediately following the crash.

According to a trial brief, witnesses reported seeing both drivers swerving through-traffic and “communicating to each other through their windows,” as they competed to get ahead of one another.

Wheeler has prior convictions for armed robbery and receiving stolen property. Bahls has no documented prior felony convictions.

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