Former Stanford student found guilty in fatal DUI case | News | Palo Alto Online |


Former Stanford student found guilty in fatal DUI case

Complex case could result in 12 years in prison for Zachary Katz

A 28-year-old former Stanford Graduate School of Business student who drove the wrong way down U.S. Highway 101 in 2013, killing one man and seriously injuring two others, was convicted of felony charges on Friday, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said.

A San Mateo County jury found Zachary Katz guilty of one count of felony vehicular manslaughter under the influence of alcohol; felony driving under the influence of alcohol causing bodily injury; felony driving with .08 percent or higher blood alcohol causing bodily jury; with a great bodily injury enhancement and a multiple-victims allegation, the latter two adding time to a sentence. He could face up to 12 years in state prison, but Wagstaffe said this was Katz's first brush with the law.

California Highway Patrol deputies arrested Katz on Oct. 5, 2013, after he drove his Infiniti sedan north onto southbound Highway 101 in South San Francisco for 1.75 miles before striking a Ford Escape SUV taxi head-on at about 3:50 a.m. The cab careened across the roadway and was struck by a Mazda traveling south.

The accident killed taxi passenger Pedro Juan Soldevilla, 62, of Puerto Rico. He was completely ejected from the vehicle and died at the scene. A second passenger, Miguel Santiago, was taken to the hospital with major injuries and survived. Neither passenger was wearing a seatbelt, according to the CHP. The taxi driver, identified as 31-year-old Azmach Ejersa of Emeryville, was also hospitalized with major injuries. The Mazda driver was uninjured.

Katz, who attended Stanford at the time, was also hospitalized with major injuries. He had a blood alcohol content of around 0.15/0.16 at the time of the crash, CHP said at the time. A blood test found a 0.13 percent alcohol reading at the hospital two hours later, according to the DA’s office.

The case was "a battle," Wagstaffe said, as Katz's defense tried to knock the blood evidence out of court. The defense had argued that his blood was drawn involuntarily.

On Oct. 27, 2015, San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Barbara Mallach ruled the blood-draw results were not admissible because the CHP officer did not read Katz the implied-consent law prior to taking the blood sample. Mallach concluded that the blood draw was involuntary and violated Katz's Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure. The judge acknowledged at the time that no appellate case existed holding that reading the defendant his rights was required to draw the blood. Prosecutors filed an appeal on Nov. 24, 2015.

The California First District Court of Appeal reinstated the blood evidence on March 29, 2016. The state Supreme Court agreed with the appeals court on June 15, 2016, refusing to hear the case.

That ruling came just days before a June 23, 2016, U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a separate case that blood draws require a warrant because they are more invasive than breathalyzer tests.

The case was again argued in the state appeals court in November 2016, but the court found in January that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling did not apply to the inevitable discovery doctrine on which Katz's appeal was based. The state Supreme Court again declined to hear the case in March. The appeals court's decision therefore became final in April.

Katz remained out of custody on a $250,000 bail bond on condition that he may not operate a motor vehicle and he must abstain from alcohol.

The jury deliberated for two days but then two of the jurors needed to leave for previously scheduled trips. Two alternate jurors were brought in, and the deliberations started anew and lasted two days, Wagstaffe said.

The victims’ families and Katz's family were in court throughout the trial. Wagstaffe said there were no winners of the trail but that "justice was done." When someone drives drunk and someone dies, "there has to be consequences," he said.

Katz was taken into custody and is being held without bail. He will return to court for sentencing on Jan. 5.


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34 people like this
Posted by @PAFreePress
a resident of another community
on Nov 18, 2017 at 12:33 pm

If I’m not mistaken, you automatically consent to a blood draw when you apply for a California State Drivers license. And based on the fact that he was intoxicated gaving the CHP probable cause. Now, if he was pulled over, probable cause must be established. Field sobriety test. BTW you can refuse this test in the state of california. However, if you sre arrested, and refuse a blood draw, you can lose your license.

99 people like this
Posted by Thumbs Up
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 18, 2017 at 2:08 pm

Thank God he was convicted and not let off on a technicality. Nice job, Wagstaffe. Unfortunately, he faces only up to 12 years, which translates to only a few years for killing someone. And at that, he’ll probably be in a low security prison, basically dorm life for a few easy years.

212 people like this
Posted by D
a resident of Woodland Ave. area (East Palo Alto)
on Nov 18, 2017 at 5:25 pm

This is a travesty for the Katz family and if you don't know the scientific facts of the case and were not in the court room then don't comment! Yes a life was lost but truth be told people do have severe quite medical issues that can cause problems ! Through the grace of god go I! In actuality what happened to seat belt laws?

105 people like this
Posted by Dave
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 18, 2017 at 11:17 pm

Hey D --

I wasn't in the courtroom, but I don't see any scientific issues with what happened, only legal/procedural issues. I do support holding police to a high legal standard when they gather potential evidence against a suspect, and it's possible this was a case where they overstepped their bounds.

Nonetheless, is there a reason why I shouldn't hold Mr. Katz responsible for the death and serious injuries he caused to others? Legal pleadings aside? You can want him to recover, but his actions have had grave consequences for others, and I see no reason to care more for him than I do for those he hurt.

129 people like this
Posted by What?!
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 19, 2017 at 1:35 am

How interesting that "D" blames the death on lack of wearing a seat belt. And that Katz should be freed because he has a "medical problem" so the mistake of killing a person should be forgiven. I hope they throw the book at Katz.

97 people like this
Posted by ndn
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 20, 2017 at 10:17 am

Yes, people do have medical issues while driving sometimes (not often). But being drunk and driving the wrong way is not a medical issue at all. It's a criminal act. A life was not "lost" as someone wrote, a life was criminally ended due to a homicide.It could have been me or you had we been on the road at the time of the accident. I do hope that Katz is not given a pass on his crime just because it's the first the system knows he committed. 12 years would be fine by me.

87 people like this
Posted by Member
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 20, 2017 at 12:00 pm

Who is the ridiculous fool saying it’s a “travesty for the Katz family?” Why - because their son is a raging drunk who’s stayed out until 4am driving on the wrong side of the highway? Yes, a life was lost and many lives were disrupted so it’s a travesty for ALL. The Katz family’s only travesty is dealing with the consequences and finding a rehab for their drunk adult child. Grow up!!!

89 people like this
Posted by huh?
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 20, 2017 at 1:58 pm

I'm perplexed by the huge # of likes for D's sympathetic post for Katz. I suspect these were all made by the same person. Yes, it is unfortunate for the Katz family that their son had his seemingly bright future derailed. OTOH, he made a very poor choice (DUI), which resulted in the tragic loss of another person's life.

67 people like this
Posted by DP
a resident of another community
on Nov 21, 2017 at 10:42 am

I hope he gets the maximum sentence. He chose to get into that vehicle after drinking heavily. His blood alcohol content shows that he was way over the legal limit. He made that choice to drive in that condition. He killed an innocent man and injured two others. The jury did the right thing. People need to be held accountable for their actions. Katz still has his life. The poor man that he killed does not. In my opinion, I think DUI laws should be even more strict and the penalties even harsher.

47 people like this
Posted by RB
a resident of another community
on Nov 21, 2017 at 1:13 pm

Mr. Katz clearly tried to get off on a technicality and when that didn't work, he tried to claim he had medical issues. He deserves no sympathy or leniency. His lack of remorse and failure to take responsibility for taking a man's life and injuring others only shows the kind of person he is. The jury made the right decision and I hope the judge sentences him to the maximum.

44 people like this
Posted by A
a resident of another community
on Nov 21, 2017 at 6:37 pm

Yeah no sympathy for Zach Katz. Having known him at Harvard it's clear he feels no remorse for this. Posting a status on Facebook about how he was alive after the accident showed he only cares about himself. Not to mention the obviously fake posts about his grandiose life and how strangers trust him enough to watch their children. [Portion removed.]

24 people like this
Posted by Ryan
a resident of University South
on Nov 26, 2017 at 8:24 pm

Listen. The facts are that Mr. Katz was intoxicated and decided to get behind of the wheel of a car, which lead to the death of one individual and two other being injured. For that reason (despite procedural issues, random other medical “issues” and whether the individuals were wearing seat belts), he was found guilty and should be held responsible for his actions. An Ivy League degree, nor crying parents, forgive someone from a criminal act.

2 people like this
Posted by F
a resident of another community
on Dec 1, 2017 at 2:27 pm

[Post removed.]

2 people like this
Posted by Angry
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 1, 2017 at 3:54 pm

To all you "haters" out there, you think you know the facts of this case because you are reading biased articles about Mr. Katz, making him out to be a callous, entitled brat, however, your "facts" are all wrong. Mr. Katz was not only poisoned with Methanol, which was found in his blood in very large amounts several hours after the accident, but he has a seizure disorder which was undiagnosed prior to the accident, as well. No high-ranking doctor is going to put his reputation on the line to testify for the defense just to do it. If all of you people with your "holier than thou" attitudes sat in that courtroom and actually listened to all the facts of the case, you would know that the jury got it wrong. Like most of you making negative comments, it is likely that most of those jurors went into the courtroom with pre-conceived notions about this man and didn't even bother listening to the testimony before deciding their verdict. Those of you who think that he has no remorse for what happened think you know him well, but you don't know him at all. It is very easy to judge looking at it from the perspective of someone who doesn't know all the facts of the case, but you have NO CLUE. [Portion removed.]

I just hope that nothing like this ever happens to you or someone you know and love and you are not judged as unfairly as I believe he was. My friend was driving with an undiagnosed brain tumor and drove across a four-lane roadway after he had a seizure behind the wheel, so, yes, it is very possible to drive with a "medical issue" and not know it. "Behind every person is a story, behind every story is a person. So think before you judge, because judging someone doesn't label who they are, it labels who you are."

17 people like this
Posted by Thumbs Up
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 1, 2017 at 5:18 pm

@"Angry" and "F": Even with a seizure disorder, the fact is that he was DUI, and that is a crime! Harvard? No one cares! Quit waiving it like Harvard alums wear halos. Harvard alums are a dime a dozen in Palo Alto. He is a criminal now for poor judgement. Many blacks get wrongly accused and they are innocent. Katz is NOT innocent, talk until you are blue in the face, but he was driving under the influence with alcohol and is not above the law, even with a Harvard degree. I hope he spends the maximum time in prison so he can think about the fact that he killed someone and injured others.

Like this comment
Posted by F
a resident of Los Altos
on Dec 1, 2017 at 6:51 pm

[Post removed.]

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