A man who was driving a truckload of stolen appliances when a stove tumbled from the vehicle, causing a crash that killed a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy, may be released from prison after an appellate court reduced his conviction.
Cole Wilkins, 43, of Long Beach had just stolen a shipment of appliances from a home under construction in Riverside County and was driving on the 91 Freeway in Orange County about 5 a.m. on July 7, 2006, when an unsecured stove fell onto the roadway. David Piquette, a 10-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Department, was driving to work from his Corona home and swerved to avoid hitting the appliance. He collided with a cement truck, which landed on top of his car and crushed him.
Wilkins is currently serving a sentence of 16 years to life in Avenal State Prison after being convicted of second-degree murder in 2017. But a three-judge panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana ruled Tuesday that jurors did not have enough evidence to prove Wilkins’ actions contained the “implied malice” needed to qualify for a second-degree murder conviction. Instead, the panel changed his conviction to involuntary manslaughter, which carries a maximum term of four years.
“There was no evidence that Wilkins was speeding, making abrupt lane changes or otherwise driving dangerously,” Justice Eileen C. Moore wrote in the decision. However, she noted that “Wilkins’s actions of loading his truck with large stolen appliances in an unsafe manner (not tying them down), and driving on the freeway with the tailgate down plainly establish criminal negligence,” which caused Piquette’s death. She concluded that involuntary manslaughter would be a more appropriate conviction.
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