Jury selection to begin tomorrow in fatal street race trial

INDIO – Jury selection is slated to begin tomorrow for the trial of two men accused of causing the death of an 81-year-old woman while street racing in Rancho Mirage more than two years ago.

Scott Daniel Bahls, 31, of Palm Springs, and Wade Wheeler, 34, of Rancho Mirage, are each charged with murder, vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, unlawfully engaging in a speed contest on a highway, hit-and-run causing injury or death and reckless driving causing injury or death.

Both men also face sentence-enhancing allegations of committing a serious felony causing injury and causing an accident resulting in great bodily injury or death for the June 18, 2013 crash that killed Barbara Schmitz and seriously injured her husband, Gerald.

Bahls is additionally charged with an allegation of fleeing the scene, while Wheeler faces an allegation of inflicting great bodily injury to a person over 70 years old.

On the day of the crash, Wheeler was seen on Highway 111 in Rancho Mirage “revving his vehicle’s engine to gain the attention of the driver of another BMW, Scott Bahls,” according to a declaration in support of an arrest warrant.

“Witnesses said the two BMWs had been traveling in excess of 70-80 mph at times,” the declaration states.

According to another court document, witnesses reported seeing both drivers swerving through traffic and “communicating to each other through their windows. Both vehicles were seen either side by side or within a car length apart.”

Wheeler was eastbound on Highway 111 when his BMW crashed into the passenger side of a vehicle driven by Gerald Schmitz as he was turning left onto Highway 111 from Dunes View Road. The car launched into the air and rolled several times.

Barbara Schmitz died at a hospital about two hours after the crash.

Wheeler had been driving 74 mph before the crash and suffered a broken leg. Bahls, who allegedly left the scene, also was driving faster than 70 mph, prosecutors allege.

Riverside County District Attorney’s Office spokesman John Hall previously said prosecutors “carefully examined all the evidence in this case before making our decision on what charges were the most appropriate to file.”

The case involved a “complex crash reconstruction” and many witness interviews, Hall said.

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