The driver of a van that crashed near Orange Cove in January 2015, resulting in the deaths of four passengers, was sentenced Friday to three years of probation and 30 days in an adult offender work program.
In announcing the sentence, Fresno County Superior Court Judge Ralph Nunez said Agustin Martinez Mendoza, 38, led an exemplary life before the Jan. 9, 2015, crash on American Avenue near Navelencia Avenue.
“You don’t drink alcohol, you don’t use drugs and you don’t smoke,” Nunez told Mendoza. “Unfortunately, four people died.”
Mendoza was taking farmworkers home from the fields when the crash happened.
In announcing the sentence, Judge Ralph Nunez said Agustin Martinez Mendoza, 38, led an exemplary life before the Jan. 9, 2015, fatal accident on American Avenue near Navelencia Avenue.
The California Highway Patrol said Mendoza was attempting to pass a tractor-trailer pulling two flatbed trailers along American Avenue shortly before 6 p.m. when the semi-truck turned left to enter Navelencia Avenue. The van struck the big rig’s left-front fender and wheel, then overturned several times. The truck driver was uninjured.
There were nine people in the van, but only seat belts for eight. The four people who died were not wearing seat belts and were thrown from the van.
The dead workers were identified by the coroner’s office as Fortino Vasquez Tepeco, 29; Pedro Rodriguez Vasquez, 21; Aguileo Vasquez Vargas, 56; and Jorge Aguilera, 55.
On March 21 this year, Mendoza pleaded guilty to a felony charge of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, a crime that typically carries up to six years in prison, said defense attorney Arthur Collins, who represented Mendoza.
I struggle with your case, because where does justice lie?
Judge Ralph Nunez
At Friday’s hearing, Collins said Mendoza was a good candidate for probation because “he has led a blameless life and has never been in trouble with the law.”
Collins also said Mendoza “is a great family man and the sole supporter” and a person who is remorseful and filled with anguish for what happened.
Nunez noted for the record that Mendoza was not speeding when the crash happened, but he was driving at night on roads that were unfamiliar to him. That’s because some of the farmworkers didn’t have a ride home and Mendoza didn’t want to leave them in the fields, Collins said.
“I struggle with your case, because where does justice lie?” Nunez said.
Because the victims were from Mexico, only one family could be found to give their thoughts of what is fair, the judge said. That family said it was an accident and that charges should be dropped, Nunez said.
In the end, Nunez said he saw no purpose in sentencing Mendoza to prison since he has lived a law-abiding life and works hard to support his family.
“He’s the sole supporter of his family,” Nunez said. “If I lock him up, they will have a hard time.”