History could mean life sentence for accused DUI driver

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The man blamed for a fiery collision, killing a mother and daughter, is out of the hospital, and Monday, he faced a judge for the first time.

Right now, Rafael Arce Pedroza is facing charges that could land him in prison for more than 20 years. But prosecutors have one piece of information that could make it much worse for him.

Days after surgery kept him out of court, Pedroza appeared in his red jail jumpsuit, facing charges of gross vehicular manslaughter while driving drunk. The 31-year-old is accused of killing Jacqueline Rivera and her 11-year-old daughter Aaliyah, rear-ending their stopped car at a Southeast Fresno intersection on Nov. 22.

Investigators at the scene researched his background and found a prior assault case in Los Angeles, and a DUI case in San Diego.

"The San Diego case is very important because that'll make a big difference on what his sentence could be," said ABC30 legal analyst Tony Capozzi.

A prior DUI conviction could mean a life sentence for Pedroza. But Action News couldn't find any history of a DUI case in San Diego court records.

Capozzi says it could be under a different name or it could still be pending. If Pedroza hasn't been convicted yet, the potential for a life sentence in this case is out the door.

But leaving the scene could make it worse. Police say Pedroza ran away from the crash as a fire grew in the SUV he'd hit and as bystanders tried to help the family escape. Officers say they found him hiding under a bed in a nearby apartment.

"If they can tie in the person they found under the bed to this accident, that's something that's going to be told to the jury and the jury is going to be told that's an indication of his guilt," Capozzi said.

Pedroza is now scheduled to enter his plea in two weeks.

Prosecutors can change the charges against him to reflect a prior DUI -- and a possible life sentence -- as soon as they figure out the details.

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