Former columnist, professional surfer charged with vehicular manslaughter

A professional surfer who was allegedly speeding and drunk when he crashed a car in Del Mar last year, killing his 24-year-old passenger, was charged with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and DUI, authorities announced Monday.

A $500,000 arrest warrant has been issued for Milton Willis in connection with the accident last June 6 that killed Bradley Dillahunty of Laguna Niguel, said Steve Walker of the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office.

Willis, 52, was critically injured in the 1:40 a.m. crash at Coast Boulevard and 20th Street and had to be hospitalized.

Authorities allege Willis, who had borrowed Dillahunty’s car, lost control of the Toyota Avalon while driving about 65 mph in a 25-mph zone. The sedan hit a parked car and smashed into a palm tree.

Sheriff’s officials said evidence at the scene - including a strong odor of alcohol - suggested that drinking was a “major” causative factor in the wreck.

Just prior to the accident, Dillahunty, who worked as a musician, had been at Jimmy O’s, a sports bar-restaurant on West 15th in Del Mar, sheriff’s Sgt. Randy Webb said at the time.

Webb declined to say where Willis spent the hours leading up to the accident.

Willis, who ran a North County surf school with his identical-twin brother, Michael, is famed for plying some of the world’s largest waves and credited as a developer of “tow-in surfing,” in which a surfer is pulled onto a very large breaker by a cord attached to a personal watercraft or helicopter. The pair wrote a column for a while for this newspaper.

The Willis brothers also established the first surfing class in a U.S. public high school in 1972 and co-authored a book of philosophical essays inspired by their surfing careers.

Milton Willis faces a maximum of 11 years and eight months in prison if convicted of the manslaughter charge and two counts of driving under the influence causing injury with a prior DUI conviction within 10 years, Walker said.