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Man ordered to trial for crash that killed Utah 3-year-old

Published May 28, 2014 10:06 pm

Courts • Man faces DUI and automobile homicide charges.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The father and his sons were stopped at a red light, stomachs full of fast-food and laughter after a boys' night out with friends when a white pickup slammed into the back of their car, changing their lives forever.

The crash killed 3-year-old Zane Thurber on impact. His father suffered bruising, internal bleeding and a concussion. His older brother has been in bereavement counseling since the January collision.

On Wednesday, the Kearns man accused of killing the toddler when he drunkenly careened into the back of Matt Thurber's car was ordered to stand trial on two felonies and five misdemeanor charges.

Manuel de Jesus Guinea, 45, will appear in court again next month to answer to the seven charges with a plea.

For automobile homicide, the most severe of the charges against him, Guinea faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted. He was also charged with nine counts of driving under the influence, though two were dropped on Wednesday.

Third District Judge James Blanch listened as three witnesses told him how they saw a white pickup tear down the street and crash into a stopped car at 1300 West and 5400 South in Taylorsville, causing a chain reaction that involved five cars in the wreck.

Onlookers ran to check on the people in the cars.

Inside Matt Thurber's white Subaru, one of his sons was screaming. The other was still.

Thurber, who works for the Tribune part time, seemed dazed. He testified Wednesday that he was having trouble moving the right side of his body.

"My immediate thought was kids are resilient," Thurber testified at Wednesday's preliminary hearing about his son Zane. "I thought he was just knocked out cold."

Thurber and his family wore yellow in the courtroom Wednesday to honor the toddler, who they have described as bright and full of life.

Guinea, who listened to Wednesday's hearing with the help of a Spanish interpreter, declined a man's offer for help at the scene, witnesses said.

Several said the man smelled like alcohol. When police arrived, they noticed he had vomited on his shirt and found three unopened cans of beer rolling around inside his truck.

A blood sample taken at the scene indicated that Guinea's blood alcohol level was 0.2 — more than twice the legal limit at which it is presumed unsafe to drive.

Unified Police Detective Matt Masock said Guinea was traveling at more than 60 mph up the street, despite its incline, and although he hit the brakes before he crashed into the Thurbers' car, experts estimate his speed on impact was about 53 mph.

The speed limit in the area is 45 mph.

Defense attorneys questioned the father about the car seat in which his son had been strapped.

The father insisted he secured it properly and had previously attended parent safety classes at which he learned how to correctly use the car seat.

Whether the car seat failed to protect the child may never be known for sure — after the toddler was removed from the scene and examined by the medical examiner's office, the family was asked if they wanted to keep the seat. When they declined, the car seat was destroyed.

"That was an oversight on my end," Masock said.

Witnesses who went to help the family at the scene of the crash said Guinea got out of his truck and tried to walk away from the scene. He was having trouble standing and couldn't move very fast, according to testimony.

A witness helped restrain him until police arrived.

Guinea will be arraigned before Judge Elizabeth Hruby-Mills on June 23.

mlang@sltrib.com

Twitter: @Marissa_Jae