Hit-and-run defendant remains jailed after judge rejects release efforts

  • by Seth Hemmelgarn
  • Thursday April 21, 2016
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The man accused of fatally striking a gay San Francisco man with his car and fleeing the scene will remain in jail after a judge today (Thursday, April 21) denied a motion to reduce his $400,000 bail or release him on his own recognizance.

Brendan Wallace, 33, of Daly City, was arrested earlier this month for the November death of Dennis Nix, 60. He's pleaded not guilty to charges including felony hit and run and vehicular manslaughter. Nix, a well-known financial planner, had been riding his scooter around 2 a.m. November 22 near his Ingleside district home when he was hit.

Deputy Public Defender Abigail Rivamonte portrayed Wallace as a man who'd had a rough life but was working to better himself and described Nix's death as an "unfortunate" accident.

Assistant District Attorney Maggie Buitrago described Wallace as "callous" and said he'd done nothing to help Nix.

Rivamonte said another man, who hasn't been charged, was a passenger in Wallace's car the night of the incident. She said the man's stated they were driving down San Jose Avenue. "All of a sudden," Nix had appeared on his scooter, and "in a snap second, the accident occurred," she said, referring to the man's statement.

She said there had been "poor choices" afterward, but she referred to the incident as an "unfortunate, unfortunate accident." She said prosecutors haven't presented evidence that shows there was "gross negligence," which would be required to justify such a high bail amount, rather than just "ordinary negligence." There's been no evidence that Wallace had been speeding, under the influence, or on the phone, according to Rivamonte.

Accurately predicting that Buitrago would claim Wallace had dragged Nix's body 400 feet, Rivamonte said the man who'd been riding in Wallace's car has denied that. She also said that a 911 caller had seen a blue car hit Nix's body after Wallace allegedly struck him.

"Another car may have caused Mr. Nix's body to be moved or dragged a portion of the way," Rivamonte said.

She first argued for his bail to be reduced to $15,000, but eventually said she'd be willing to settle for $300,000.

Buitrago objected to the motion to reduce bail, saying that Wallace had rear-ended Nix's scooter, "prompting him to propel backward" onto his car. He didn't stop, try to render assistance, or do anything to prevent Nix's body from being struck again, she said, adding that "good Samaritans" had finally stopped near the body and turned on their hazard lights.

Wallace, whose wrecked Mercedes was still at the scene when police arrived, "only stopped because his car was rendered inoperable," Buitrago said, and he never called police. Instead, she said, he'd contacted co-defendant Heinz Raimol "Rymo" Cortado, who came to pick him up. Cortado, 34, has pleaded not guilty to charges of being an accessory after the fact and giving police false information. He bailed out of custody shortly after his arrest.

"He did flee," Buitrago said of Wallace, countering a statement from Rivamonte that he hadn't fled the Bay Area before his arrest. "... He fled from the scene itself."

When Daly City police went to Wallace's home the day Nix was killed, he'd lied to police and told them that his car had been stolen, Buitrago said.

Wallace was "irresponsible" and had shown a "callous disregard for human life," she said.

'Against all odds'

As she argued that Wallace wouldn't be a public safety risk if he were released, Rivamonte told Dorfman that Wallace had been born and raised in San Francisco and turned out well "against all odds and adversity."

His parents were both crack addicts, she said, and he'd gone to live with his grandmother before being removed and spending years in foster care and group homes.

Despite Wallace's troubles, Rivamonte said he'd graduated from Balboa High School and worked multiple jobs. He finally became employed as a line cook at Google, where he went to work "diligently," and took classes at Le Cordon Bleu cooking school.

Wallace and his wife, Shayne Wallace, lived with their two-year-old son in one room of a house they shared with other family members.

The family has "very limited financial means," and the high bail is "a hard toll and burden" on the family "financially and emotionally," Rivamonte said.

It's "nearly impossible" for them "to make ends meet" with Wallace in jail, she said. If he were to be released, Rivamonte said, "he is not going anywhere ... he is not going to leave his family."

She said her client would be willing to wear an ankle monitor or comply with "whatever conditions you want."

Wallace has only one previous conviction, a second-degree burglary charge from 12 years ago, Rivamonte said. San Mateo County court records show that in May 2014 Wallace's wife had gotten a temporary restraining order against him, but that it dissolved after she and Wallace didn't show up for a hearing weeks later.

Shayne Wallace was in court Thursday with a cousin and wept as she watched the proceedings. She declined to comment when approached by a reporter.

Dorfman indicated he had little sympathy for Wallace.

"What am I supposed to do today?" he asked. He said the defendant had continued driving, fled the scene, "made no effort to notify police," and then lied.

He told Rivamonte she may claim "that's the action of a scared person," but he said it was "the action of somebody who does not want to be responsible."

Rivamonte started pleading with Dorfman, with her voice rising. She continued repeating that there was nothing to indicate "gross negligence" on Wallace's part and asking, "How do we get to $400,000, judge, how?"

She also noted that the medical examiner's office had found methamphetamine, amphetamine, and antidepressants in Nix's system, and when it came to negligence, the drugs' presence "could come into play." (Nix's friends have insisted he didn't use amphetamines or methamphetamine and that the drugs were a byproduct of one of his antidepressants. The medical examiner's office has indicated some test results are pending and has declined to directly confirm the friends' claims.)

Dorfman eventually told Rivamonte she was "advocating vigorously" for her client, and "I respect it," but Thursday's session wasn't an evidentiary hearing, and "it does not sound to me like a misdemeanor crime." He kept the bail where it was, citing Wallace fleeing the scene and lying to police, among other factors, and saying the defendant was a public safety risk.

Wallace, who stood calmly before during Thursday's hearing without speaking, is set to appear back in court May 5 to set a date for his preliminary hearing. Cortado is also due to appear in court that day.