Laguna Beach physician Robert M. Pettis entered not guilty pleas in Orange County Superior Court on Monday, Jan. 27, to felony charges stemming from a double traffic fatality last year, court records show.
In addition, Pettis was also named as a defendant in a civil personal injury and wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of one of the victim’s relatives just days earlier.
Pettis, 48, a surgeon and specialist in hearing and balance disorders, last November was charged by a prosecutor with vehicular manslaughter stemming from a speed race seven months earlier when his Tesla crossed into the path of an inbound car on Laguna Canyon Road at 6:40 a.m., killing its occupants.
Driver Alberto Casique-Salinas, 47, of Anaheim and his passenger Armondo Garcia Gonzales, of Santa Ana, were en route to their jobs as gardeners for Stewart’s Landscaping in Laguna Beach.
At the time of the accident, the Tesla’s driver, who then was not identified, informed police that another vehicle, a white Mercedes, had pushed him into oncoming traffic. Police questioned the second driver, who was also not identified, but ultimately the prosecutor “could only support charges against the defendant,” a spokeswoman for the district attorney said in November.
The identity of the second driver, also a physician, emerged in the civil lawsuit, which was filed on Thursday, Jan. 23, according to court records.
Podiatrist and surgeon Dekker Nolan McKeever, whose practice is based in Orange, as well as Pettis are named defendants in the complaint filed on behalf of six relatives of Casique-Salinas, court records show. McKeever did not return calls seeking comment.
The lawsuit, filed by the Los Angeles law firms of Otto L. Haselhoff and Martinian and Associates, also names as defendants seven public entities, including the city of Laguna Beach and its water district, along with car dealers Mission Imports and Mercedes Benz of Laguna Niguel.
A judge set a pre-trial hearing for March 13 in the criminal case against Pettis. Pettis’ defense attorney, Costa Mesa’s Paul S. Meyer, did not return calls seeking comment.
Pettis’ arrest would trigger a review of the physician’s license from the state Medical Board, but any potential restrictions would be held in abeyance until the case concluded, said spokesman Frank Miller.