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Driver in fatal ice cream store crash pleads not guilty

10:51 AM, May 20, 2009   |    comments
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Twenty-four-year-old Francis M. Hernandez entered the plea Wednesday. He had pleaded not guilty in January to 19 charges, including three counts of vehicular homicide, but withdrew that plea in February after switching from a private attorney to a public defender.

Police say a vehicle driven by Hernandez slammed into a pickup truck in Aurora on Sept. 4 and pushed it into an ice cream shop, killing 49-year-old Patricia Guntharp and 52-year-old Debra Serecky.

Debris from the crash dragged 3-year-old Marten Kudlis out of the shop and into the street, killing him.

Hernandez's public defender, Chris Baumann, said Hernandez withdrew his early not guilty plea so his trial would be postponed in order to allow Baumann to prepare for trial.

He is due back in court Aug. 28. His trial is scheduled to start Nov. 2.

Family members of the victims were in the courtroom for Hernandez's hearing but left without comment.

Hernandez had more than a dozen prior arrests in Colorado but managed to stay off immigration officials' radar. Authorities say he used 12 aliases and two dates of birth.

Kallman Elinoff, Hernandez's previous attorney, had said his defense strategy would focus on pinning the blame for the accident on Guntharp, who was driving the other vehicle. Elinoff said a toxicology report indicated Guntharp had methamphetamine and other "drugs of abuse" in her system at the time of the accident.

Baumann declined to comment on his strategy.

(Copyright Associated Press, All Rights Reserved)

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