Stolen cars, young boys, police chases lead to murder trial

A deadly high speed escape will lead to a murder trial for a Fresno man. (KFSN)
May 13, 2014 5:12:17 PM PDT
A deadly high speed escape will lead to a murder trial for a Fresno man.

A judge ruled Tuesday that Walter McDaniel followed a dangerous pattern with unrelated children and stolen cars.

"Mr. McDaniel knows darn good and well that he's got otherwise unprotected children at great risk in a car that he is driving at great speeds," Judge John Vogt said.

Action News reported on McDaniel twice before the deadly crash happened last July. McDaniel found himself at the center of news stories almost as often as police investigations.

In November 2012, we found him in the back of a police car after a high speed chase ended with a flat tire. Our video also shows the teenager who was in the car with McDaniel during the chase. McDaniel referred to the boy as his son, although they're not related in any way. But the same teenager was with McDaniel when he was arrested for DUI in a stolen car five months later, and when he crashed into a stranger's car three months after that. Prosecutors say McDaniel's pattern shows disregard for the lives of others, including the boy he called his son.

"Mr. McDaniel has a history of stealing cars and then going on extremely dangerous police chases with them," said deputy district attorney Stephanie Savrnoch.

Police say McDaniel confessed to being at the end of a four-day meth binge after the crash that killed Earnest Grant last July. Toxicology tests showed some meth in his system, but not an overwhelming amount, so his defense attorney argued that prosecutors didn't prove a key element of the crimes he's charged with.

"I don't believe the people have shown that the defendant was driving under the influence of anything, including methamphetamine," said public defender Kathy Marousek.

But McDaniel has a prior conviction for evading arrest in a 2007 involving a crash and three other boys in his car. And prosecutors say he had been warned that intoxicated driving could lead to murder charges if he ever killed someone.

Judge Vogt said McDaniel appeared to use the children as an excuse and a shield against punishment. But, the judge said, McDaniel's criminal history could break through that shield, leading to a murder conviction.

"Anybody who drives that way with children in the car like that is endangering them to the point of gross indifference to their lives being there the next day," Judge Vogt said.

McDaniel also faces charges of child endangerment for the incidents in November 2012 and July 2013. A conviction on all charges would lead to a life sentence.

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