Petaluma man hit, killed by driver suspected of DUI

Bay Area

PETALUMA, Calif. (KRON) – There have been two deadly crashes in the city of Petaluma in two nights.

Police say one is the result of a driver speeding, running a red light and killing another driver.

The other case, a North Bay business owner was hit and killed by a person suspected of driving under the influence.

The victim was taking out the trash in front of his home when he was struck.

A memorial in the roundabout. The sidewalk and driveway marked up by crime scene investigators.

The Gongora’s family home in Petaluma — A sense of pride for the late Mario Gongora but now that he’s died, a corner now a heartbreaking reminder of his sudden and devastating death.

“Very, very hard. It’s been very challenging for everyone here. It’s been a lot of tears. Lot of shakiness. It’s been very challenging to say the least the last couple of days,” Colin Reeger said. 

Mario Gongora’s family confirms he was the 53-year-old old man hit and killed by 41-year-old James Watkins Tuesday night.

Petaluma police say Watkins was allegedly under the influence of prescription narcotics when he sped down South McDowell Boulevard at Baywood Drive.

Investigators say Gongora was taking out the trash when Watkins veered onto the sidewalk, hit Gongora, pinning him under the car.

Watkins’ Toyota Prius ended up on the roundabout.

A nurse and two off-duty first responders with the California Highway Patrol and San Francisco Police Department performed CPR but Gongora later died at a hospital.

Watkins was placed under arrest.

“He was charged with felony DUI, and two counts of vehicular manslaughter. He has a court case pending from a 2018 DUI crash, that he was supposed to go to court next month. So, now he’s going to have to answer to two DUI’s,” Lieutenant Tim Lyons said. 

For the past year, Gongora owned JJ’s Burger Joint in Novato and spent the two decades prior working as a chef in the North Bay.

Family spokesperson Colin Reeger says he is survived by his wife and three kids.

“He was a fantastic person. He was kind of the center point of this family. Kept everyone together. All the big family gatherings were here. Everyone would come and chill out. He meant a lot to so many people,” Reeger said. 

Petaluma police Lieutenant Tim Lyons says his department is working with the DMV to ensure Watkins’ license is suspended or revoked.

He’s not clear why that was not the case prior to the crash considering his other DUI case.

Watkins has since posted bail and is due in court for both incidents next month.

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