The last five years of Rene Rosas’ life have left him in states of confusion and despair, but he’s finally able to start rebuilding his life. On July 2, Rosas was released from San Luis Obispo County Jail after his conviction for vehicular manslaughter was overturned on appeal.
The original conviction stemmed from the Sept. 14, 2010, accidental death of Ron “Tuffy” Kelsey, a mechanic and owner of Tuffy’s Central Supply in Arroyo Grande for 28 years.
Rosas, who was friends with Kelsey at the time, brought his recreational vehicle to Kelsey’s shop to have it fixed. Kelsey told Rosas to sit in the driver’s seat and shift through the gears, according to court documents, while Kelsey crawled behind the “chocked” rear wheels to check underneath the vehicle.
As Rosas applied the gas pedal, the vehicle lurched backwards off the chocks, crushing Kelsey.
Rosas knew he wasn’t guilty. Following a five-day trial in 2014 that Rosas calls “corrupt,” he was found guilty. He automatically filed an appeal.
While serving his jail sentence, Rosas said he received notification that his case was picked up by the California Appellate Project, a nonprofit that helps prisoners appeal their cases. Once a person is convicted, they lose their Constitutional right to a court-appointed attorney.
Santa Barbara-based appellate attorney David Andreasen received Rosas’ case and filed the appeal with the Second Appellate District on Oct. 15, 2014.
Andreasen formed the basis of his appeal on the case of Mercer v. DMV. As Andreasen explains it, Rosas needed to be driving in order to be convicted of vehicular manslaughter, and Rosas wasn’t driving. The Mercer cased basically established what “driving” is.
Simply put, Andreasen explains, Rosas was only running through the gears in the RV at the direction of a mechanic and wasn’t driving.
The appellate court agreed and ordered Rosas to be released from jail on May 19, but it didn’t happen until nearly two months later.
An overturned conviction is rare in California, according to Andreasen, who added that the rate of overturned convictions sits somewhere around 2 percent.
An attorney at the California Appellate Project didn’t want to go on record with any specific information, but said that the number of overturned convictions every year in California is “pretty low.”
“Sometimes the statutes are not interpreted correctly,” Andreasen said. “Thankfully, the court of appeals corrected the trial court. It’s unfortunate that it took as long as it did for that to happen, but ultimately they got it right.”
Now Rosas, who’s living in Santa Maria with a relative, is trying to clear is name.
“It’s been nothing short of a whirlwind,” Rosas told the Sun. “Now I just want to get my life back.”