SAN JOSE — Prosecutors have filed a rare kind of murder charge against a man suspected of driving drunk and causing a crash earlier this week that killed four of his passengers and injured another, according to the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office.
Rabbi Kumar Khanna, 26, of San Jose, was arraigned Friday in a San Jose courtroom to answer to four counts of murder, and two counts of felony DUI causing injury. He is being held without bail in the Santa Clara County Main Jail, according to custody records.
DUI defendants, even in fatal incidents, are typically charged with vehicular manslaughter, not murder. But when a defendant has at least one prior impaired driving conviction — Khanna was convicted of misdemeanor DUI in 2019 — they can be charged with what is known as a Watson murder, named after a landmark 1981 California Supreme Court case.
The Watson ruling found that a driver who decides to drive while intoxicated by drugs or alcohol can be liable for murder under an implied malice theory, on the grounds that DUI is widely known as an act with potentially deadly consequences.
Defendants with a DUI history are the most likely candidates for the Watson murder charge because such convictions are accompanied by court-ordered rehabilitation, which prosecutors can hold up as proof someone has been expressly and formally made aware of the dangers of intoxicated driving.
According to the California Highway Patrol, around 10:10 p.m. Wednesday, Khanna was driving a 2005 Dodge Durango south on Highway 85 past Cottle Road at a “high rate of speed” when he lost control, causing the vehicle to spin out. The SUV rolled several times and crashed into the right-hand sound wall.
Three men riding in the SUV, including one who was thrown from the vehicle, died at the scene. A female passenger who was severely injured died later at a hospital.
The deceased victims were identified by the Santa Clara County Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office as Shannon Galbraith, 25; Amador Landa, 26; Issac Landa, 25; and Johnnie Perez Damian, 25.
Khanna was not seriously injured, and a 24-year-old man suffered minor injuries. All of the vehicle’s occupants were described by the CHP as San Jose residents.
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Author: Robert Salonga