By Neal Putnam
A driver who rammed through barricades at the 2018 Pride Festival in Balboa Park and injured a pregnant woman has been sentenced to two years in state prison.
Matthew John Haney, 40, pleaded guilty to assault with a motor vehicle in the July 14 incident when he plowed through a barricade at 10:30 p.m. in the 2400 block of Sixth Avenue, causing a police traffic controller to literally jump out of the way to avoid being hit.
Haney then collided with a vehicle on Fifth Avenue, injuring a pregnant woman who was taken to a hospital by paramedics. San Diego Police officers chased him as he drove a black Honda Odyssey in a 22-mile pursuit into Lemon Grove and La Mesa, where Haney abandoned the vehicle and fled on foot.
A warrant was issued for his arrest, but he was not picked up until late August. San Diego Superior Court Judge Fred Maguire dismissed charges of hit and run with injury, evading police, and driving on a suspended license after he pleaded guilty to felony assault of the traffic controller.
Haney was ordered to pay $500 in hospital costs for the victim and fined $824. He got credit for four months in jail. Probation was denied, as Haney has a prior record for attempted kidnapping and assault in Oregon.
Guy who killed gay friend gets 14 years in prison
Brandon Kyle Cooper, 38, was sentenced to 14 years in state prison for killing his gay friend, Spencer Thompson, in which he gave a dying declaration and named Cooper as the man who stabbed him in North Park.
Thompson, 38, was found on University Avenue at 9:34 p.m. by a San Diego Police Officer, whose body-worn camera picked up the last statements of Thompson. He was stabbed in the abdomen on May 29, 2017.
The two gay men were longtime friends but had a falling out earlier that day. Cooper had been staying with Thompson in his North Park apartment.
A six-man, six-woman jury convicted Cooper of voluntary manslaughter on Aug. 29 after acquitting him of second-degree murder. San Diego Superior Court Judge Charles Rogers imposed the maximum 11 years for manslaughter plus a year for using a knife and two years for injuring a previous boyfriend and a store employee in a shoplifting incident.
Cooper is required to serve 85 percent of his 14-year term, which is nearly 12 years before he can be paroled. He received credit for serving 645 days in jail.
As of Dec. 26, Cooper remains in the George Bailey Detention Facility, awaiting transfer to state prison. He was ordered to pay $1,530 in funeral costs.
Cooper worked at the now-closed City Deli in Hillcrest as a cashier and busboy for 10 months, according to his probation report. He became homeless with a drug problem until Thompson took him in. Cooper said he had been clean for 17 months but relapsed just three weeks before he killed Thompson.
“I made a huge mistake,” said Cooper to a probation officer. “I never wanted to hurt him to the point that he would perish.”
Cooper repeatedly denied stabbing Cooper to police until he heard his friend’s last words naming him as his attacker. He later claimed the stabbing was in self-defense and claimed that Thompson had tried “hitting on me.”
Thompson’s DNA was found on the knife and handle. Numerous surveillance cameras showed the two walking around North Park and then Cooper leaving by himself.
In 2005, a boyfriend of Thompson’s was punched in the face and had surgery to repair some injuries. Cooper pleaded guilty to battery and received a three-year prison term, according to court records.
—Neal Putnam is a local freelance writer. Reach him at email@example.com.