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Resident headed to trial in fatal accident of Curtis Gunn

Kiesle to be tried for gross vehicular manslaughter and other charges

By Sam Richards

Staff writer


MARTINEZ – A 75-year-old Rossmoor resident will answer to charges of one count of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and two enhanced counts of driving under the influence of alcohol in the April 16, 2022, death of Curtis Gunn.

At a preliminary hearing in Contra Costa County Superior Court on Friday, Superior Court Judge Jennifer Lee said she did not agree with the contention of Michael Markowitz, the attorney representing Stephen Miller Kiesle, that while the accident on Tice Creek Drive near Fairlawn Court was the result of  “a horrible set of circumstances,” it didn’t rise to the level of gross negligence. A charge of vehicular manslaughter with “simple negligence,” Markowitz asserted, would have been appropriate.

“What we have here is an accident (in which) Mr. Kiesle basically did not see the pedestrians,” said Markowitz, who noted that Kiesle’s blood-alcohol level of .113 – above the state’s .08 limit for legally driving – in itself wasn’t high enough to warrant the gross negligence charge.

But Deputy District Attorney Victor Mendoza countered that the “totality of the circumstances” – that the Kiesle’s 2012 Lexus SUV was on the sidewalk for almost 100 feet, that the Lexus’s headlights were apparently not on, that there’s no evidence Kiesle applied the brakes or tried to swerve to miss the Gunns – justifies a charge of gross negligence.

The judge agreed with Mendoza, also citing “the totality of the circumstances.”

Kiesle, who has been free after posting bond, is scheduled to return to court on Tuesday, Feb. 7 at 8:30 a.m. for arraignment on one count of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, two counts of driving under the influence of alcohol and special enhancements for prior felonies.

Kiesle, who has been living in Rossmoor since 2010, is a defrocked Catholic priest who in 2004 was sentenced to six years in prison on child molestation charges. It is those felonies that counted as special enhancements related to the newer DUI-related counts. Kiesle was in court Friday, appearing alert and attentive, taking notes, and nodding his head occasionally.

Curtis and Laurelyn Gunn were walking home from a Trivia Night gathering at Gateway on April 16, 2022, when they heard a rumbling sound behind them.

“We were holding hands and talking and we heard a very strange sound behind us …. And we looked at each other like, ‘What was that?’” said Laurelyn Gunn, one of five witnesses who took the stand Friday (Kiesle was not one of them). “It was like thunder at ground level.”

She then felt a jolt on her right elbow, knocking her to the ground. “The best I can describe it is that a ‘black hole’ came by,” she said, “and Curt was gone.”

Kiesle was driving the SUV south on Tice Creek Drive when it jumped the curb, struck the couple, ran into a tree across Fairlawn Court and landed on its driver’s side partly in the Fairlawn crosswalk and partly on the sidewalk.

Laurelyn Gunn, who suffered a broken wrist and hand and knee injuries, got to her feet to find her husband lying unconscious in the street. His hat, glasses and shoes were in various other spots on the street. She said his name two times, she said, and put her hand on his back.

“There was no muscle tone whatsoever,” a calm and composed Laurelyn Gunn testified Friday morning. “He was not breathing, and his legs were at very odd angles.”

He died a short time later at John Muir Medical Center, where Laurelyn and Kielse also were both taken for treatment of their injuries. Kiesle had to be extricated from his wrecked SUV.

A short time earlier, the Gunns had been at a table with Kiesle and two others playing trivia. Curt Gunn, Kiesle and the two others shared a 24-oz. bottle of homemade beer while playing, Laurelyn testified. Kiesle seemed “normal” at that point, she said, but by the time Kiesle was asking bonus trivia questions using a microphone, “his speech was slurred, he was having difficulty matching up the correct questions with the answers.”

The other four witnesses were Walnut Creek Police Department officers who handled various aspects of the immediate aftermath of the accident and the subsequent investigation. One of those officers, Sgt. Dustin Brookshire, said information extracted from the Lexus’s computer showed the fastest speed the vehicle traveled during the crucial final 5 seconds or so was 28 mph, just slightly over the road’s 25 mph speed limit.

Laurelyn Gunn, who like Kiesle still lives in Rossmoor, declined comment on her husband’s case after Friday’s hearing, but said she may comment in the future. Kiesle also declined comment Friday.

Markowitz did speak, though, saying he is disappointed the gross negligence charge still stands. “There’s no good resolution in a case like this,” he said.