An off-duty policeman charged with a felony for firing at a woman after a road rage incident, wounding her and her 8-year-old son, testified today that she looked "high" and "out of her mind" right before the shooting.
Frank White, 29, is charged with felony gross negligent discharge of a firearm and a misdemeanor count of displaying a firearm in an angry or threatening manner in connection with the March 15, 2008, run-in with Oceanside resident Rachel Silva.
White -- who is on administrative leave without pay from the San Diego Police Department -- faces up to nine years in prison if convicted.
Taking the stand in his own defense, White said Silva looked "upset and crazy" when he encountered her in a shopping center parking lot.
White testified that he had no idea why Silva was tailgating him. He said the motorist didn't respond when he pointed his gun at her.
The officer said he was scared that the person following him might have been somebody he had arrested in the past.
"If this person had a chance to kill me, they're gonna kill me, because they're out of their mind," White testified.
Holding back tears, White said he never would have fired his gun if he knew a young child was in the front passenger seat.
Johnny Silva, now 10, testified earlier that his mother was screaming when he saw a man pointing a gun toward them. The boy said he curled up into a ball and told Silva the man had a gun.
In his opening statement, Deputy District Attorney Jeff Dusek said Silva was close to her home when she pulled out of the Old Grove Shopping Center off state Route 76, forcing White -- who was going to a grocery store with his wife -- to take evasive action.
As White turned into the shopping center just after 9 p.m., Silva pulled up behind and followed him into the parking lot.
"All she had to do was turn left and go home," the prosecutor said. "But she didn't."
Silva started screeching her tires and tailgating White, "just being a jerk," the prosecutor said. He said Silva had alcohol, marijuana and methamphetamine in her system as she encountered White and his wife.
After driving into the lot, White for some reason stopped his car and Silva pulled up so close to him that he couldn't open his door, Dusek said.
Her son saw White pull out a gun and point it at him, prompting his mother to call 911, the prosecutor said.
He said White did not show his badge or identify himself as a police officer before backing up.
As Silva backed up her car, it made slight contact with White's car and he opened fire, the prosecutor said.
"He blasts her right through his closed window ... through Johnny's closed window," Dusek told the jury.
After the first shot, it was "boom, boom, boom, boom," for a total of five shots from White's five-shot revolver, Dusek said.
Silva was shot twice in the arm and suffered a broken arm. Her son was wounded on the inside of the left knee.
White couldn't see in Silva's car and aimed for "center mass" when he fired, Dusek said. White then got out of his car, identified himself and ordered Silva out of her car, but she couldn't obey because her arm was broken, the prosecutor said.
White's wife -- a Carlsbad 911 operator -- was overheard on an emergency call telling her husband "pull your badge, pull your badge," before he fired the shots, Dusek told the jury.
Defense attorney Rick Pinckard told the jury in his opening statement that Silva initiated the entire incident.
The attorney said the Whites weren't under the influence and were just going to the grocery store when they encountered Silva.
"They weren't angry, they weren't looking for a confrontation," Pinckard said. "They weren't looking for any trouble at all."
The peace and tranquility of the couple's world collided with the rage and volatility of Silva's world, Pinckard said.
He said the Whites didn't know who was driving Silva's car or why the driver of that vehicle followed them into the shopping center.
"She (Silva) chose to chase the Whites into that parking lot," the defense attorney said.
He said a woman who witnessed the initial near-collision on the street would testify that the way Silva was driving was "scary."
White's wife said the incident was one of the most frightening experiences she's ever been through in her life, the attorney said.
Silva was driving in such a way in the parking lot that White thought, "What's coming next?" Pinckard said.
White had his wife call police before the shooting and was doing what officers do when dealing with dangerous people, Pinckard said.
When Silva pulled up next to his car, White pulled out his gun from a holster in his waistband and pointed it at the "threat," Pinckard said.
"As Silva's actions escalate, the danger felt by the Whites becomes more imminent," Pinckard said.
When he looked into Silva's car, White saw a woman's face "contorted in a rage," his attorney said. The Whites were able to look into Silva's car three times, and the only person they saw was the driver, Pinckard said.
He said Silva had a prior 2003 road rage incident in which she pulled over, threw a soft drink in a car and punched a 17-year-old female driver in the face, believing the teenager cut her off in traffic, Pinckard said.
The 17-year-old didn't respond to Silva because she saw the woman had a child in the car, according to Pinckard.
At the time Silva collided with White, her blood-alcohol level was 2 1/2 times the legal limit, the defense attorney said.
Her blood-alcohol level was measured at .15 percent two hours after the shooting, Dusek said.
Silva pleaded guilty last year to felony child endangerment and misdemeanor driving under the influence. Her sentencing has been delayed until next month so authorities can see how well she responds to substance abuse treatment at a residential rehabilitation clinic.
She is not expected to testify during White's trial.