A Somers Point man in a deadly crash outside Gregory’s Bar in 2011 will go on trial on vehicular homicide and other charges Monday.
Antonio Vargas was 21 and had lost his license nine times when, on Jan. 6, 2011, authorities said, he sped down Route 9 drunk, crashing into the front of the Somers Point bar. Kevin Botta, 33, who was killed in the crash, was a passenger, authorities said.
Joseph Higbee, who was celebrating his 26th birthday, was injured when a fire hydrant dislodged from the impact struck him outside the bar.
Vargas, now 24, has maintained it was Botta who was driving. He has filed a civil suit against the Somers Point man’s estate.
The state charges Vargas and Botta had been drinking heavily at the bar when they decided to drive to the Wawa nearby. On the way back, the vehicle was traveling at least 70 mph — 40 mph faster than the posted speed limit. Losing control, the driver clipped a truck, struck a pole and dislodged the fire hydrant before crashing into the bar’s door.
Vargas was charged the day of the crash with being involved in a fatal accident while driving with a suspended license. It was the ninth time his license had been suspended, acting First Assistant Prosecutor Diane Ruberton previously said in court.
“He has an absolutely atrocious driving record,” she told the judge during a court appearance in May 2011. “He barely goes a couple of months at a time before getting a driving violation and a suspension.”
Vargas was in a coma after the crash. When he was released from the hospital that April, he was charged with aggravated manslaughter, vehicular homicide and aggravated assault, and was jailed on $350,000 bail.
A blood-alcohol test taken two hours after the crash put Vargas below the legal limit, but Ruberton previously said an expert would show the .07 would mean Vargas was legally drunk — at least .08 — two hours before.
The manslaughter charge carries a possible prison sentence of 10 to 30 years, if convicted. Vehicular homicide and aggravated assault each carries a five- to 10-year term.
Jury selection began Monday and was completed Thursday afternoon, resulting in a jury of nine women and seven men, which includes four alternates.
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