Oakland woman to be sentenced for striking man with her car outside bar

OAKLAND (BCN) — A former law student is scheduled to be sentenced on Friday morning for her conviction for assault with a deadly weapon and three other felonies for striking and seriously injuring a man with her car on a street outside a bar near Lake Merritt in Oakland two years ago.

Meghan Zato, 28, could face up to 10 years in state prison for her convictions, which also include two counts of driving under the influence of alcohol and one count of leaving the scene of an accident.

But prosecutors have indicated that they won’t seek the maximum possible sentence against Zato, who had been free on bail until Alameda County Superior Court Judge Allen Hymer remanded her into custody when she was convicted on Nov. 13.

He cited the seriousness of her crimes and the possible long sentence against her.

The charges against Zato derive from an incident in which she drove her 1984 Mercedes-Benz into 27-year-old Oakland resident James Roda. Roda was in the middle of 14th Street between Madison and Oak streets shortly
before 1 a.m. on Oct. 5, 2013.

Zato’s lawyer, Megan Burns, admitted in her closing argument that Zato struck Roda but said Zato was under duress because she faced an imminent threat from a group of men who had beaten her and robbed her of her cellphone in a confrontation in front of the Oakland Public Library.

The library is across the street from the Ruby Room bar, where Zato and Roda had both been drinking that night.

Prosecutor Adam Maldonado said Zato had been kicked out of the bar because she was drunk and had confronted patrons who were playing pool.

The confrontation occurred after Zato shouted at a group of people who were painting graffiti on the library’s walls.

Zato, who got a scholarship to study philosophy at the University of California at Los Angeles and then was a first semester student at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, was working as a paralegal until she was convicted.
She testified that a mob blocked her car and she heard pounding on her trunk that sounded like a gunshot.

Burns said Zato “didn’t feel safe and was scared out of her mind” and felt like she had “no other alternative in that moment” other than to speed away from the scene.

Burns asked jurors to find Zato not guilty of all the charges against her, saying, “What happened was terrible but it was an accident.”

Maldonado admitted that Zato had been the victim of a crime but said the situation had calmed down and she had spent five minutes smoking a cigarette in her car before she sped off, did a U-turn and hit Roda.

He alleged that when Zato testified, “She had to bolster her case for self-defense” by exaggerating what happened to her.

Maldonado said Zato had a blood-alcohol level of 0.16 percent, twice the legal limit, when she was tested two hours after the collision. An expert testified that her level probably was 0.24 at the time of the collision.

Roda was working as a server and a fry cook at an Alameda restaurant and had just come from the Ruby Room. He was hospitalized for six months with serious brain injuries that will challenge him for the rest of his life and is now legally blind.

He also suffers from seizures and has memory problems.Maldonado alleged that Zato “knew exactly what she was doing” when she quickly made a U-turn into the middle of the street “but she didn’t care” if she hit someone.

However, there isn’t any evidence that she specifically targeted Roda, he said.

Zato is scheduled to be sentenced by Hymer at a hearing at 9 a.m. Friday in Department 12 at the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse at 12th and Oak streets in Oakland.

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