121717 hwy 154 fatal

Rigoberto Gracida, of Santa Maria, was arrested on suspicion of DUI following a three-vehicle crash on the S-curve of Highway 154 east of Zaca Station Road that left two people dead early Dec. 17.

Contributed by Santa Barbara County Fire battalion chief David Neels

The case for a Santa Maria man charged in connection to driving under the influence and killing two people in a crash on Highway 154 in December will return to court next month to set a date for a preliminary hearing. 

Rigoberto Gracida, also identified earlier by California Highway Patrol officials as Rigoberto Paucene, will return Feb. 22, with time waived through March. 

Gracida faces felony DUI causing injury and driving under the influence with over 0.08 blood alcohol content causing injury.

He also faces a misdemeanor count of driving on a suspended license and a vehicle infraction of unlawful turning movement, according to the Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office. 

He faces the special allegation of causing great bodily injury to four victims in connection to the crash.

Gracida pleaded not guilty last month during his first court appearance.

Get news headlines sent daily to your inbox

The crash reportedly occurred on the S-curve of Highway 154, according to County Fire officials, who also added that extensive extrication efforts were required to remove victims from their cars.

Just before 2 a.m. Dec. 17, Gracida was traveling in his 2007 Nissan SUV eastbound on Highway 154 at an unknown rate of speed, according to the CHP. Gracida had reportedly allowed his car to cross into oncoming westbound traffic before crashing into a 2001 Honda Accord traveling westbound. The driver of the Accord was identified as Hamilton Diaz Bonilla, 35, of Santa Maria. Inside his car were passengers Rocael Antonio Pedro, 32, and Ricio Arroyo Cortes, 29, both also of Santa Maria. 

The CHP said the impact caused the Nissan to roll onto its roof and was subsequently struck from behind by an oncoming 2000 Dodge minivan driven by 43-year-old Aurelio Salvador Zaragoza, of Santa Maria. Inside his van was 50-year-old Antonio Bautista Santiago, of Santa Maria. 

Bonilla and Santiago were pronounced dead at the scene. Gracida was treated for minor injuries and was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol. 

Gina Kim covers crime and courts for Santa Maria Times. Follow her on Twitter @gina_k210