By BILL HETHERMAN
LOS ANGELES – A Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy pleaded not guilty Wednesday to murder and other counts stemming from a high-speed, off-duty crash in South Gate that left a 12-year-old boy dead.
Ricardo Castro, 28, pleaded not guilty in downtown Los Angeles to one count each of murder, vehicular manslaughter and reckless driving causing great bodily injury in connection with the Nov. 3, 2021, crash.
The boy, Isaiah Suarez Rodriguez, died as a result of the collision. The boy’s older sister, Alexa, was injured, along with Castro and his passenger, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
Castro is due back in court Feb. 27, when a date will be set for a hearing to determine if there is enough evidence for him to stand trial. A bail review hearing had been scheduled Wednesday, but that matter was deferred, so Castro remains jailed in lieu of $2 million bail.
District Attorney George Gascón said earlier that the off-duty deputy may have been traveling at speeds nearing 95 mph in a 25 mph school zone as he approached the busy intersection of Firestone Boulevard and San Juan Avenue, where the boy’s sister was waiting to make a left turn at about 3:55 p.m. the afternoon of the crash.
“Driving at 95 miles per hour was nearly quadruple the speed limit when school children are present …,” the district attorney told reporters, adding that it shows a “conscious disregard for those children’s lives.”
Castro’s driving history revealed that he has been involved in “multiple collisions” and received several traffic tickets, including for speeding, the district attorney said.
“Mr. Castro was also involved as a passenger in a fatal traffic collision just three months prior to this fatal collision,” Gascón said.
The district attorney noted that Castro received rigorous training through his work as a sheriff’s deputy and had significant personal and professional knowledge about the dangers of driving at an excessive speed.
“Mr. Castro’s recklessness ended the life of a boy with an entire future ahead of him and destroyed a family,” Gascón said. “This tragedy was preventable and should have never happened.”
Castro was arrested at 5:14 p.m. Feb. 14, the same day the charges were filed.
South Gate Police Chief Darren Arakawa said the boy was an “innocent child” who “didn’t stand a chance in that crash.”
The police chief said the off-duty deputy was driving his Ford pick-up truck at an “unsafe speed far beyond the speed limit” when he broadsided the side of the Mercedes-Benz in which the boy was riding as his sister was negotiating a left turn.
“I want to emphasize that this was a preventable incident that was clearly in the hands of Mr. Castro, and that cannot be understated. At the time of the collision, the street was heavily populated with motorists and pedestrians and occurred during a time period while school children were still present.”
Castro could face a potential 25-year-to-life prison term if convicted as charged, the district attorney said.
He is the second Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy to be charged with murder and reckless driving in just under two years in connection with a deadly high-speed crash while off-duty.
Daniel Manuel Auner, now 25, was charged in May 2021 with a crash in Torrance that killed one of his passengers, 23-year-old Ashley Wells, and seriously injured two other people in his Dodge Charger. He is awaiting trial.