OCEANSIDE — A Vista jury on March 23 acquitted a 31-year-old man accused of swerving his vehicle into a bicyclist.
After a weeklong trial, which included testimony from both the victim and defendant, a jury found Michael Shields not guilty of assault with a deadly weapon with the allegation that he personally used his Jeep Liberty to commit the crime.
Prosecutors alleged Shields turned his 4,000-pound vehicle into Martin Rios on Feb. 25, 2009, on College Avenue after the bicyclist spit on his car. And to further prove their case, prosecutors said they had a key independent eyewitness who collaborated Shields’ aggressive act against the bicyclist.
The witness, Trevor Hudson, had been following behind the two men on Barnard Drive shortly before the accident happened and said Rios had been traveling just outside the bike lane when for no reason Shields swerved at Rios nearly hitting him. Following the near-miss, Rios sped up his peddling, which Hudson said he believed was so the bicyclist could catch up to Shields. Moments after Rios caught up to Shields, he said he saw the defendant’s vehicle turn into Rios.
Rios, 21, suffered minor injuries from the accident, according to court testimony. He has filed a civil lawsuit against Shields.
“He lost it,” Deputy District Attorney Elisabeth Silva told jurors in her closing arguments. In a brief moment of rage, Shields swerved into Rios as the two traveled side by side down the street, the prosecutor said.
When asked immediately after the accident by Rios and Hudson why he did it, Shields said because Rios spit on his car, Silva said in her closing argument.
However, Shields and his attorney, David Boertje, painted a different picture. In his closing argument, Boertje portrayed Rios as an unemployed pothead looking for a payday. On the stand, Rios admitted to smoking marijuana daily and having a criminal conviction for vandalism, the lawyer said.
“(Shields) took evasive action to avoid hitting Mr. Rios,” Boertje told jurors.
Shields testified Rios was initially swerving in the road blocking traffic. Shortly after he passed the bicyclist, Rios came up along the left side of his vehicle and spit on it as well as slapped and kicked at the vehicle he said. Then he said Rios lost his balance and fell in front of his car, which prompted him to steer to the left.
Authorities estimate Shields was traveling 5 to 15 mph at the time of the accident.
“I wouldn’t try to hit anyone with the car; it’s insane,” Shields told police after his arrest.
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