By Daniel E. Beckham
A petition has been sent to Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia asking to impose stricter sentences on motorist/drivers that flee in “Hit and Run” collisions where injury or death resulted to a pedestrian, runner or cyclist. The petition has rallied close to 700 supporters.
Garcia represents a wide swatch of Southeast Los Angeles Count including the cities of Cerritos, Artesia, Downey, Norwalk and Bell Gardens.
HMG-CN exclusively interviewed Carmen Tellez, a schoolteacher in El Paso, Texas, regarding the recent tragedy of her son, who was killed by a drunk motorist.
Luis “Andy” Garcia came to Los Angeles in search of the big city life and new opportunities. He maintained employment at Starbucks until September 14, 2013 when Carmen, his mother, woke up to hear the news of her son’s death. A speeding drunk driver dragged Luis on his bike under the drunk motorist’s car for several hundred feet.
Carmen received a call from the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office. At first, the mother was defensive and could not believe what she was hearing, but after the Assistant Coroner confirmed all the information Carmen realized her worst fear had come true.
The drunk motorist also hit cyclist Mario Lopez, who was knocked into the cement, leaving him with a broken back. Another victim, Ulises Melgar, was hit so hard and launched so high into the air that he almost sailed over the railing of the bridge to the river below.
The two other victims were friends of Garcia. They had recently met half a year prior and became close friends.
“My son, Luis died at the scene”, commented the distraught mother.
“Both Ulises and Mario ended up in the hospital. The compression fracture Mario sustained to his lower back forced him to move back home with his parents and lose three months of work.”
Sources confirmed that the drunk driver was none other than Wendy Villegas, a 21 year-old college student. Wendy immediately drove off and did not think to check on the well-being of the three cyclists.
A motorist, Jeff Flores, who witnessed the scene of the crime followed Wendy to his residence. At 7:15, the following morning law enforcement were able to verify that she had been driving drunk. Sources told HMG-CN she was drunk at the time of booking.
She was charged with a DUI, hit and run resulting in injury or death and vehicular manslaughter and was released on a $100,000 bond.
On March 22, 2014, Villegas entered a plea agreement of 3 years and 8 months in State Prison.
In accordance to California law, Villegas could have been sentenced to up to 15 years for killing Andy, injuring Mario and Ulises, fleeing the scene, and driving under the influence.
The prosecution instead offered her a plea bargain of 3 years and 8 months– a sentence that fits within the window of what she might have received for driving drunk and leaving the scene of the crash. In addition, because she is young and has a clean record, she will likely only serve a portion of that time.
“My family was not consulted about the plea offer and nor were the two young men involved in this horrific tragedy”, commented Carmen Tellez.
“The only chance we had to participate in the legal process was after the fact, when the defendant finally entered a ‘no contest’ plea. We were allowed to read our statements about how her actions had affected our lives”, a concerned Carmen said.
According to family members throughout the court proceedings, Villegas’ maintained a stoic facial expression . She did not make eye contact, apologize to the victims’ family members or express remorse. She complained to the court that having to wear an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet impaired her ability to be fashionable.
Although Villegas was sentenced to 44 months, there is a strong likelihood she will only do about 50% of her sentence, which equals out to 22 months. She will serve about 18 months of that time in California State Prison and the final 4 months in a halfway house.
Carmen commented,” The tragic and violent death of my son Luis Andy Garcia, amount to little more than a short-lived inconvenience for Villegas. For me, the sentence is much harsher- a lifetime of pain and grief, both for the loss of my son and knowing that his killer got away with murder.”
“Such a sentence is only possible because our judicial system does not take hit-and-runs seriously. For this reason, I feel it is important to advocate for this bill. We need to overhaul the sentencing guidelines for these types of tragedies.”
Members are urging California legislature to take a hard stance against reckless motorists who cause injury or death to pedestrians, runners or cyclists.
The family wishes to champion stricter sentences for criminal defendants. According to family members although, a sentence was imposed, justice was not served.
In 2012, LAPD filed approximately 20,000 “Hit and Run” crashes. Out of the 20,00, 4,000 pedestrians, runners and cyclist were either injured or killed.
The proposed Legislative solution would impose stricter sentences that reflect that serious nature of motorists/drivers that “Hit and Run” from the scene of a collision.
The new law would also stress that if a pedestrian, runner or cyclist was injured or killed, the suspect would have his California Driver’s License suspended for five years for an injury, and 10 years where a death resulted.
If these new sentences are not imposed, Carmen commented, “I will keep trying until something happens and I will keep working with those who have also undergone similar tragedies.”
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