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Agustin Morales listens to the prosecution during his arraignment Nov. 7 at the Vista Courthouse. He pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter and other charges. Photo by Jared Whitlock
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Driver pleads not guilty to charges stemming from toddler’s death

VISTA — Agustin Morales pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter on Nov. 7 at the Vista courthouse. 

Morales was arrested on Nov. 4 in connection with striking and killing 3-year-old Juan Ruiz with his car.

Additionally, Morales pleaded not guilty to counts of presenting false identification to an officer and driving without a license. He faces a maximum of two and a half years in jail if convicted of the charges.

On Nov. 4, Morales was also booked on suspicion of driving under the influence resulting in death. However, prosecutors decided not to charge him with a drunken driving count.

Deputy District Attorney Stephen Marquardt said that police administered a preliminary alcohol-screening device after the collision. Morales registered .029 percent, which is below the legal blood-alcohol limit of .08 percent.

“The people have reviewed the case and do not believe the current state of the evidence supports such a charge,” Marquardt said.

Marquardt said that Morales’ negligent driving resulted in Juan’s death.

On Nov. 1, Juan was walking on the sidewalk of Encinitas Boulevard with his mother, who was pushing the boy’s 1-year-old sibling in a stroller.

At about 7:20 a.m., Morales’ car hit Juan when turning westbound onto Encinitas Boulevard from the Essex Heights Apartments’ driveway. Morales’ car also struck the stroller, Marquardt said.

Marquardt said Morales failed to look both ways and come to a complete stop.

The boy was pinned underneath the car, and Juan’s mother pounded on of the car’s windows. After stopping, Morales and a witness pulled Juan out from the underneath the vehicle.

Juan was then transported to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Judge Marshall Hockett set Morales’ bail at $75,000, noting it’s a moot point because Morales already has an immigration hold.

When requesting the $75,000 bail, Marquardt argued that Morales poses a heightened flight risk. The attorney went on to say that Morales presented a fake ID to the Sheriff’s Department, adding Morales is in the country illegally and he’s been deported before.

Peter Liss, Morales’ attorney, said that his client has cooperated with the investigation and is “distraught” over the collision.

“When the police came, he was clearly distraught,” Liss said. “That Sunday, he went to church with his family to pray for the boy.”

Liss added that Morales lifted up his car and cried for help upon realizing the boy was caught underneath the vehicle. Morales did “everything humanly possible” to save the boy’s life, Liss said.

Immediately following the incident, Sheriff’s deputies labeled the collision as an accident, and didn’t arrest Morales then. However, three days later, Morales was booked into the Vista Detention Facility after investigators uncovered new evidence.

Based on subsequent witness interviews and surveillance footage, Sheriff’s detectives are alleging that Morales should have seen Juan, Sheriff’s Sgt. Anthony O’Boyle said a day before the arraignment.