Rocky Face man faces vehicular homicide charge for pedestrian death

A Rocky Face man has been charged with second-degree vehicular homicide, a misdemeanor, for hitting a pedestrian who was in a crosswalk with his car at the intersection of Grimes Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard on Nov. 17, 2020.

Gina Marie Lamons, of Chatsworth, was 41. She died on Nov. 23 after having been airlifted to Erlanger hospital in Chattanooga.

Manuel Sierra-Ortega, 28, of 1780 N. Boyd Drive, was also charged by the Whitfield County Sheriff's Office with a violation of pedestrians have the right of way in a crosswalk, possession of marijuana, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, two counts of possession of meth, two counts of possession and use of drug-related objects, and two counts of possession of tools for the commission of a crime. Sierra-Ortega was released from the county jail on Monday on a $25,000 bond.

According to a Dalton Police Department incident report, on Nov. 17 at around 11:10 a.m. an officer responded to the intersection of Grimes Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard on a call of a vehicle collision with a pedestrian.

The report says there was a black 2020 Ford Mustang in a lane "just east of the intersection" and a man standing on the sidewalk near it. A woman was on the ground being treated by Emergency Medical Services workers.

The officer spoke with the man standing near the Mustang, Sierra-Ortega, who said he was traveling south on Grimes Street and making a left turn to go east on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Sierra-Ortega said he had a green light and while making the turn his car collided with a female pedestrian who was crossing inside the crosswalk. A motor vehicle crash report from the police department says Sierra-Ortega "stated that he did not see the pedestrian."

The Dalton Police Department incident report says Sierra-Ortega told the officer he stopped his car and got out but did not put it into park. It rolled "several feet" before he was able to get back inside and put it into park.

"While looking over the vehicle I could smell the distinct odor of marijuana coming from inside the vehicle," the officer says in the report.

The report says the officer asked Sierra-Ortega about the smell and he said "he had not smoked marijuana for about a week" but "there was a small amount of marijuana still inside the vehicle."

The officer gave Sierra-Ortega three field sobriety tests.

"Based on the clues from field sobriety and the entire interaction during the investigation I did not see any evidence that Manuel was under the influence at this time," the officer stated in the report. "He was released from the scene ..."

Police obtained a video from Roan School that showed the collision. The report says it showed "Lamons walk to the light pole and push the button at the crosswalk to obtain a walk sign." It says she waited for traffic on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to stop before entering the crosswalk. "Once Lamons crosses into the eastbound lanes a black Ford Mustang strikes her ..."

The Mustang was towed to the police department impound lot. Based on the smell of marijuana and Sierra-Ortega's admission there was marijuana in the car, the officer obtained a search warrant and searched the car the next day. The search found a "small amount of marijuana wrapped in a cigarillo wrapper, commonly referred to as a blunt, between the driver seat and the center console." In the trunk the officer found a vacuum-sealed bag containing suspected marijuana, a digital scale, a glass container with "a yellow substance commonly referred to as budder" (a marijuana extract), a thermos containing another vacuum-sealed bag of suspected marijuana and two cardboard boxes that had been shipped from California to Sierra-Ortega's address that had small amounts of marijuana inside. "It appeared that marijuana had been shipped in the boxes," the report says.

The report says the budder and the suspected marijuana tested positive for drugs in a field test.

According to a Whitfield County Sheriff's Office incident report, on Feb. 9 at around 10:10 p.m. a deputy was parked on East Walnut Avenue just east of the Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard intersection when he clocked a white Chevrolet Camaro traveling 60 mph in a 45-mph zone using a lidar device, which is similar to radar but uses light instead of radio waves.

The deputy stopped the vehicle, which was driven by Sierra-Ortega. The report says that while speaking with Sierra-Ortega, the deputy noticed the smell of marijuana and asked if there was any in the vehicle. In response, Sierra-Ortega handed the deputy "a set of digital scales and a grinder."

The report says the deputy ran Sierra-Ortega's name through the Georgia Crime Information Center database and found two outstanding warrants for him from the Dalton Police Department. He was arrested. He was asked if there "was anything else illegal in the vehicle," according to the report, and he "lowered his head and looked at the ground."

The report says Sierra-Ortega told deputies "there was approximately a half ounce of marijuana in the trunk." A deputy opened the trunk and found the marijuana in a side compartment.

The report says in response to a question if he had any illegal items on him, Sierra-Ortega said there was some meth in the front watch pocket of his pants. A search found a small baggie that contained approximately one gram of "a crystal-like substance." The report says a field test at the jail came back positive for meth.

A deputy searched the car and did not find any other illegal items.

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