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18-year-old Las Vegan held in death of California Highway Patrol officer

VICTORVILLE, Calif. — An 18-year-old Las Vegan pleaded not guilty Tuesday to vehicular manslaughter and other felony counts in the weekend death of a California Highway Patrol officer on Interstate 15 in the Mojave Desert.

Rafael Garcia was charged with vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, child endangerment and transportation of marijuana. If convicted, he could be sentenced to eight years, four months in prison.

Garcia was in the San Bernardino County jail in Victorville on $500,000 bail. A status conference is scheduled for July 8.

Prosecutors said California Highway Patrol officer Justin McGrory and another officer had stopped a car in the Barstow area, about 90 miles northeast of Los Angeles, early Sunday when Garcia’s car veered onto the shoulder and struck the 28-year-old McGrory.

Deputy District Attorney Jill Gregory said a 12-year-old child was in Garcia’s car, but she did not elaborate.

She also said 68 grams of marijuana were found in the vehicle. Tests were performed to determine whether Garcia was under the influence of marijuana or alcohol during the crash, Gregory said.

McGrory was the fifth California Highway Patrol officer killed in less than two months.

In the Paso Robles area along California’s central coast, 47-year-old CHP officer Brett Oswald was killed Sunday evening while waiting for a tow truck to remove an abandoned car from a road. A woman lost control of her car and rear-ended his patrol car .

Motorcycle officer Tom Coleman, 33, of Fontana died June 11 after hitting a big-rig while chasing a car at speeds of up to 100 mph in the San Bernardino County town of Redlands. Richard Perez, 20, of Redlands has pleaded not guilty to murder with a special allegation of causing a peace officer’s death. He could face 25 years to life in prison if convicted.

In Los Angeles, CHP motorcycle officer Phillip Ortiz died last week at a hospital from injuries suffered June 9 after being struck on the shoulder of Interstate 405 in Los Angeles. A memorial service for Ortiz takes place today at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles.

On May 7, officer Danny Benavides, 39, was killed when his plane went down in a desert area of Imperial County.

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