SALINAS, Calif. (KION) A Carmel resident who was initially the suspect in a deadly Salinas crash had the case against him dismissed in court Friday morning.
Police suspected 18-year-old Jacques Clarke of driving under the influence and causing a crash that killed Rosie Figueroa, but his DNA was found on the passenger side airbag, so it is now believed that he was not the driver at the time of the crash.
“We have to look at what [the investigators] did wrong, and why there weren’t two suspects the whole time," Clarke told KION.
The California Highway Patrol said that the other person in the car was not tested for alcohol or drugs at that time. Investigators believed Clarke was the driver because the vehicle was registered to him, the key fob was found in his pocket and the driver's seat appeared to be adjusted for someone his size. Both occupants were outside the vehicle when officers arrived.
So what took so long for this new evidence to be revealed? Clarke's mother told KION she’s been fighting for the DNA to be run since just days after the crash last December.
“As we were trying to facilitate their expert being available, COVID hits so that delays it all that much more,” Managing Deputy District Attorney Marisol Mendez said.
Mendez says the DNA wasn’t finalized for testing until summer, and they received the bombshell findings in November.
Clarke said living with that truth for the last year, while most presumed him guilty, sits with him every day.
“It's been an emotional and mental fight,” Clarke said. "I do take responsibility for a lot of what happened. I understand the pain it's caused my family, the pain it's caused the victims family, i wake up and look in the mirror and it's something that lives with me.”
Clarke said he learned his lesson, and will never let someone get behind the wheel if they've been drinking.
Family and friends of Rosie Figueroa gathered outside the Salinas courthouse Friday, demanding answers and feeling further away from a sense of closure.
“Angry and just upset,” Lupe Ramirez said.“They need to continue the investigation. Rosie’s very missed she was…she’s just a good person.”
The family worries that since its already been a year, there might not be a conviction at all.
The district attorney’s office would not comment on their new investigation, but say it's already underway alongside the CHP.
“CHP has dedicated one of their best investigators to this investigation," Mendez said. "It's very active and open.”