By Neal Putnam
A judge, citing the danger of COVID-19 in jails, ordered Tuesday the release under house arrest of a 72-year-old driver who struck 10 unsheltered people on a sidewalk near City College, killing three of them.
Craig Martin Voss, who turned 72 in jail Monday, is restricted to his South Park home with the only exception to leave the house for medical appointments and for court.
Voss will not be released for several days because he has to be screened by a county program to set this up, both his attorney and San Diego Superior Court Judge Francis Devaney said.
Devaney ordered his driver’s license surrendered and for him to wear a device that detects drug or alcohol use as well as a GPS monitoring device.
“I sympathize with a veteran with medical conditions, but I also sympathize with the three dead people,” said the judge.
Voss was arrested March 15 minutes after he drove into a tunnel at 9 a.m. on B Street west of Park Boulevard. It was raining at the time and perhaps 50 people or more were gathered in blankets and tents on the sidewalk. Police have since cleared out the area.
He is charged with three counts of vehicular manslaughter in the deaths of Rodney Diffendal, 40, Randy Ferris, 65, and Walter Jones, 61. Seven more people were injured, but several did not want to go to a hospital and were treated at the scene.
Voss takes medications for his heart, diabetes, restless leg syndrome, and an antidepressant, said Deputy District Attorney Cally Bright. He had a stroke previously and the medications’ side effect include dizzyness and nausea, she said.
Bright opposed the release of Voss, suggesting the judge lower the bail from $1 million to $500,000. Bright said Voss takes approximately 10 medications and to date they do not yet know for certain if he was under the influence by those specific drugs or others.
“The danger to the community is just too high,” said Bright. “There’s no way to stop someone from getting behind the wheel of a car.”
Voss’s attorney, Kristen Haden, said Voss’s car was damaged and was impounded by police, so he cannot drive that one. She said his wife has a car, but she uses it to drive to a supermarket where she works.
“You will not drive a car,” said Devaney, who told Voss he could only leave his home for a medical appointment and also to attend the May 3 preliminary hearing.
Devaney set a Friday hearing to confirm whether Voss is successfully wearing a device that monitors his alcohol or drug use.
“He did admit to using methamphetamine and marijuana, though not on the day of the crash,” said the prosecutor.
A pipe with traces of meth was found in Voss’s pocket at the scene, which stunned the judge. “I’m frankly surprised, Mr. Voss, with you using that,” said Devaney.
“Mr. Voss is not perfect,” said his attorney.
Bright said traces of meth and marijuana were found in his system, but not enough to prove he was under the influence. She said he had a DUI arrest 40 years ago.
“I frankly don’t think Mr. Voss is a flight risk with his wife here,” said Devaney. “I’m confident Mr. Voss didn’t intentionally drive up on that sidewalk,” he added.
“I’m really concerned about Mr. Voss, his age, and medical conditions in jail,” said Devaney, who added that there are many deaths in jail due to COVID-19.
“Mr. Voss, good luck to you, sir,” said Devaney as the hearing ended.
Voss has pleaded not guilty to the three manslaughter counts and to numerous other counts involving serious injuries to the other people while under the influence of a drug.
Voss spoke on a video screen from the Vista Detention Facility. The attorneys also appeared remotely due to the coronavirus outbreak.
— Neal Putnam is a local court reporter.