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California man charged with manslaughter after fatal head-on collision on Vandenberg Air Force Base

The Visitor Control Center hours of operation run from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week, including holidays. These new hours have been in effect since Aug. 2015 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Michael Peterson)

A Lompoc man was charged with involuntary manslaughter Wednesday in connection to a head-on collision on Vandenberg Air Force Base that killed a Santa Maria man and resulted in major injuries to a Santa Maria woman.

Michael James Culligan, 29, is charged with one felony count of involuntary manslaughter after crashing a stolen Jeep into a Lexus on Santa Lucia Canyon Road shortly before 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, then fleeing the scene.

Culligan admitted to using drugs before driving, according to the federal complaint.

Because the incident occurred on base property, Culligan was charged federally.

He made an initial bond appearance at 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building in Los Angeles but did not enter a plea, according to U.S. Attorney spokesman Ciaran McEvoy, who didn’t immediately provide a bond amount.

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Culligan faces a maximum sentence of eight years in federal prison if convicted.

The Lompoc man was driving a gray 2019 Jeep in the southbound lane when he lost control and crossed over into the northbound lane, smashing head-on into a blue 2016 Lexus, according to California Highway Patrol Officer Keith Rogers.

The Lexus driver, a 35-year-old Santa Maria man whose name has not been released, was declared dead at the scene, and the injured passenger, a 37-year-old Santa Maria woman who also has not been identified, was flown via helicopter to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital with major injuries.

Culligan fled the scene before police arrived and was arrested three hours later at the Lompoc-Surf train station one-and-a-half miles away at Park Road and West Ocean Avenue.

He was apprehended after an extensive search by Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputies and CHP officers, according to Travis Goetz, an Air Force Office of Special Investigations special agent at Vandenberg.

A K-9 unit from Vandenberg and the CHP, along with a Sheriff’s Office helicopter, were used to find Culligan, said CHP Officer Kelly Valdez, who added that Lompoc police also assisted.

Investigators determined the Jeep was stolen and its license plates belonged to another vehicle, Goetz said.

Inside the Jeep, investigators allegedly discovered empty alcoholic beverage containers and a wallet containing Culligan’s ID card.

Culligan indicated to police that he was injured, and he was subsequently transported to Lompoc Valley Medical Center, where he was interviewed by CHP officers and given a drug evaluation, Goetz said.

During the interview, Culligan said he borrowed the Jeep from a friend to shop for clothes and allegedly fled the scene because he did not have a driver’s license, according to the affidavit.

Federal officials declined to release a mugshot, citing Department of Justice policy that prevents sharing them with the press.

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© 2020 Santa Maria Times