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A misdemeanor charge against a Clovis man accused of hitting and killing a Fresno cyclist in 2022 has been elevated to a felony after the discovery of additional information, according to the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office.

The driver, Johnson Chang, 49, now faces a felony charge of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence involving the Oct. 2 crash on Watts Valley Road that killed 51-year-old Adela Luisa Santana, a college instructor, wife and mother of five.

Santana was on a group ride with several of her friends and was heading west on the two lane country road when an Acura NSX driven by Chang was coming the opposite direction and crossed into her lane. The head on collision killed Santana.

Initially, Chang was charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence, driving at an unsafe speed and making an improper turn over double lines.

Chang was expected to enter a plea to the new charge Friday, but his attorney Roger Bonakdar asked Judge Geoffrey Wilson for more time to review the evidence against his client.

The arraignment is now scheduled for March 12 in Dept. 32.

Adela Santana-MulloolyAdela Santana-Mullooly

Adela Santana-Mullooly

DA’s office changes charges

It’s unclear what that new evidence is.

Taylor Long, public information officer for the DA’s office, declined to provide specifics other than to say: “Based upon further investigation that was conducted, our office was able to amend the complaint to elevate the charge to a felony given the additional information that was provided.”

If convicted on all charges, Chang faces up to six years in prison.

A civil lawsuit filed by Santana’s family alleges Chang along with four other drivers in sports cars were speeding and racing against each other on Watts Valley Road, a popular spot for cyclists.

The lawsuit claims that all five of the vehicles “were driving with a wanton disregard for the safety of people and property. The drivers of all five vehicles were aware that their actions in participating in a motor vehicle speed contest presented a substantial risk of harm, but they intentionally ignored that risk.”

Beware, Fresno-area cyclists & pedestrians: Your lives are worth only a misdemeanor | Opinion

Friends of woman killed in court

Although Chang did not enter a plea Friday, four of Santana’s friends sat in court to see the man accused of killing their friend.

They all met through cycling and several were with her on the October 2022 ride. Santana was in front of the group.

The four women, Tracey Dunn, Hongchau Cousineau, Pam Gallemore and Heather San Julian, said they wanted to see the defendant, but more importantly, they wanted to make sure he saw them.

“I want him to know we are there and we care,” Dunn said. “I also want the judge to know there are people here for her and we want to make sure she is remembered. This was not just an accident where someone hit a cyclist; this was much more.

“He killed our friend because he was not driving safely.“

Pete Kauffman, with Panish Shea and Ravipudi LLP in Los Angeles, the attorney representing the family, was pleased that the district attorney’s office has continued its investigation.

“A felony charge,” Kauffman said, “is consistent with what we believe happened.”

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