MURRIETA: Man charged with killing woman in head-on wreck enters ‘not guilty’ plea

MURRIETA – A suspected drugged driver accused of killing a 62-year-old woman and injuring two other people in a head-on wreck in French Valley was charged Friday, Sept. 8, with second-degree murder and other felonies.

Christopher Patrick Barbara, 51, of Hemet was arrested shortly after the crash Wednesday morning that claimed the life of Joan Lehmer of Murrieta. Along with the murder count, Barbara is charged with gross vehicular manslaughter, driving under the influence of a controlled substance resulting in injuries and crossing a divided roadway resulting in injuries.

The defendant pleaded not guilty during an arraignment before Riverside County Superior Court Judge Mark Mandio, who scheduled a felony settlement conference for Sept. 14 at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta. Barbara is being held in lieu of $1 million bail at the Byrd Detention Center.

According to the California Highway Patrol, the wreck happened about 10:40 a.m. on Winchester Road, near Auld Road, just east of Murrieta. Officer Mike Lassig said that Barbara was driving his 2002 Chevrolet Silverado pickup southbound on Winchester when he allowed the vehicle to drift into northbound lanes.

Lehmer was at the wheel of a 2011 Toyota Rav 4, headed north on Winchester at roughly 50 mph when the defendant’s pickup suddenly entered her lane – coming directly at her – according to Lassig.

He said the pickup and SUV collided head-on, causing the Toyota to overturn and roll into a 2015 Dodge 2500 van also going northbound. Lehmer was pronounced dead at the scene by Riverside County Fire Department paramedics.

The van driver, 25-year-old Markis Tokio of Vista, suffered minor injuries, while Barbara’s passenger, 46-year-old Brent Schmidt of Hemet, suffered moderate injuries, as did Barbara.

Lassig said the defendant was treated at Inland Valley Medical Center in Wildomar and then booked into jail.

Murrieta police officers were the first to arrive and immediately shut down all lanes on Winchester, between Auld and Benton roads, diverting traffic away from the area.

The roadway was closed at the crash site for just over four hours while the wreckage was removed and the CHP conducted a preliminary investigation.

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