Click pictures for larger images and captions.
Keith Benford Knudsen, 19, of Portola Valley, accused of manslaughter in the death of fellow Woodside High graduate Robert Lewis Wetzel, was driving in excess of 80 mph and had a blood-alcohol level of twice the legal limit when he lost control of a black 1995 BMW and crashed into several trees off Portola Road in Portola Valley Thursday night, June 12, a prosecutor said.
The car broke into several pieces, said Steve Wagstaffe, chief deputy district attorney in San Mateo County.
On Tuesday in a Redwood City court, Mr. Knudsen wept and pleaded not guilty to charges of "gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated." Sheriff's deputies say he was the driver of the car that crashed in the 800 block of Portola Road around 11:30 p.m. on June 12, injuring him and killing the sole passenger, Mr. Wetzel, 19, of unincorporated Redwood City.
Mr. Knudsen, who is being held without bail, stood in orange jail garb as he entered his plea. He is also charged with committing a felony -- the car accident -- while released on bail. At the time of the accident, he was out of custody on $15,000 bail after being charged with robbery and grand theft in Redwood City, Lt. Marc Alcantera of the Sheriff's Office said.
Mr. Knudsen told authorities that before the accident he was under the influence of alcohol and did not want to drive, but his friend, Mr. Wetzel, convinced him to drive them home, Mr. Wagstaffe said.
Mr. Wetzel was pronounced dead at the scene from the trauma of the collision, San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault said. Mr. Knudsen was pinned in the car and taken to Stanford Hospital, where he had 20 staples to close an injury to his head, Mr. Wagstaffe said.
The emergency room doctor noted that Mr. Knudsen was "grossly intoxicated" and his blood-alcohol level was 0.17 percent, Mr. Wagstaffe said. The legal limit is 0.08 percent.
Deputies arrested Mr. Knudsen on Saturday, June 14. During the June 17 court proceedings, defense attorney Eric Hove asked the court to release Mr. Knudsen on $200,000 bail, but the court agreed with the prosecution's request that he be held without bail, Mr. Wagstaffe said.
Sheriff's deputies first learned of the June 12 accident when someone called a dispatcher to report "the sound of a large crash," Sgt. Linda Gibbons of the Sheriff's Office said. Medics responded immediately, she said.
Mr. Knudsen is due to return to court July 7 to set a date for a preliminary hearing.
Both Mr. Wetzel and Mr. Knudsen graduated from Woodside High School in June 2007.
Bay City News Service contributed to this report.