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Man put on trial for drunk driving deaths of passengers

The defense attorney for a Campo man charged with killing his two passengers in a 2017 drunk driving crash asked jurors Oct. 17 to not convict him of murder.

The trial opened for Ryan Gary Renz, 26, who is charged in the Jan. 25, 2017 deaths of his cousin, Johnny Ray Meyer, Jr., 23, and friend Dillon Wiltfong, 26, both of Campo.

Renz’s attorney, Audrey Kyu, appeared to concede that he is guilty of two counts of gross vehicular manslaughter instead of murder.

Deputy District Attorney Laura Evans told jurors Renz was driving on Buckman Springs Road and came to a curve at 90 mph. He struck an oak tree, creating “a very violent scene,” she said, before it rolled over and over.

Evans said Renz knew it was dangerous to drink and drive “but he just didn’t care.” His driver’s license was suspended from a previous DUI.

“The defendant chose to drink. The defendant chose to drive,” said Evans. “Both died…because of his choice to drink and drive.”

The trial before El Cajon Superior Court Judge Jeff Fraser will last several weeks.

The first witness was Robyn Pearson, the girlfriend of Wiltfong. She said she was with her boyfriend, Meyer and Renz that day and that Renz had “too many (drinks) to count.”

Renz was driving Wiltfong’s Volkswagen Jetta as both attorneys said he “drew the short straw” when they were talking about who would drive everybody home after a party.

“They all decided that Ryan was the best one to drive,” said Kyu.

Jason Morgan, an equipment operator, said he was driving to work around 6:45 p.m. on Buckman Springs Road when he saw the single-car crash.

“A car came flying around the corner. It hit an oak tree,” said Morgan. “It rolled over a couple of times,” before it ended up on its roof.

Morgan said he heard the car’s tires screeching and estimated “he was probably doing 100 mph.”

“I remember the back of the car was on fire,” said Morgan. “One guy was lying in the road.”

Photos of the wreckage were shown to jurors. The pictures and testimony were difficult for the families of the victims.

Renz has pleaded not guilty and remains in jail on $3 million bail.

Con artist sentenced for fraud

Hardev Panesar, 71, of El Cajon, was sentenced on Oct. 9 to 91 months in federal prison for what the judge said was the “heartless” defrauding of 150 people who believed he was a Homeland Security agent.

Panesar was ordered to pay $2.5 million to the victims by U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel.

Panesar received seven years, one month for his guilty pleas to three counts of wire fraud, three counts of false personation of a U.S. employee, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and a structuring bank violation.

Curiel then added six months consecutively for jumping $100,000 bond and fleeing to Mexico in 2018. He was arrested there months later and brought back.

“Mr. Panesar preyed on the most vulnerable…these are people who wanted to live and experience the American dream,” said Curiel. “Mr. Panesar pretended he could be the one who provided the American Dream.”

“Pretending to be a legitimate government agent to scam hundreds of individuals of their life savings undermines the crucial trust we bestow upon our law enforcement partners,” said U.S. Attorney Robert S. Brewer, Jr., afterwards.

“He’s a con man, a liar,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Young. “He took the money he stole and gambled it away.”

His attorney, Ellis Johnson III, told the judge he has no money left to pay the hefty restitution amount. “He is a broken man,” said Johnson.

“He’s broken due to his own actions,” said the judge.

Wearing a tan prison uniform, Panesar apologized “for all the pain I caused.” His attorney said after he finishes his sentence he might be deported back to Kenya where he fled when he was a young man.

Source: East County Californian

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