Emotional testimony from a Clovis widow changed ‘hearts and minds’ in her fight for justice

How Gavin Gladding’s death may change state law

Gavin’s Law (AB 582) was a bipartisan bill, introduced by Assemblyman Jim Patterson.
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Gavin’s Law (AB 582) was a bipartisan bill, introduced by Assemblyman Jim Patterson.

A bill seeking to strengthen penalties for drivers who leave the scene of an injury crash won support Tuesday from several key members of the Assembly following emotional testimony from the wife of the Clovis man whose death inspired the legislation.

Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, has introduced AB 582, dubbed “Gavin’s Law,” after the driver who last year killed Clovis Unified Vice Principal Gavin Gladding in a hit-and-run crash received a prison term that many, including the victim’s family, felt amounted to a slap on the wrist.

Gladding’s widow, Susan, testified Tuesday before the Assembly Public Safety Committee.

“The way that the California law is written today, it incentivizes the driver to flee the scene rather than to stop and assist the individual that they have critically injured with their vehicle,” Susan Gladding told the committee.

Patterson described California’s hit-and-run law as “weak” and noted that Rogelio Alvarez Maravilla, the driver responsible for Gladding’s death, received a three-year prison term.

“He will only serve 18 months behind bars,” Patterson said in a statement issued Tuesday.

Susan Gladding, wife of Clovis Unified vice principal Gavin Gladding, speaks to the court during the sentencing of Rogelio Alvarez Maravilla on Monday. Alvarez Maravilla was sentenced to three years in prison for the hit-and-run killing. JOHN WALKER jwalker@fresnobee.com

Gladding, 43, was training for a marathon when he went jogging during the early-morning hours of Sept. 16. He was struck by a truck on Friant Road. Alvarez Maravilla, and his girlfriend, Fernanda Jakeline Lopez, were returning from a party and were believed to have been drinking, according to court documents.

Alvarez Maravilla and Lopez sped away from the scene, leaving the injured Gladding behind. With the help of Moises Antonio Valdez Guerrero of Fresno, the trio tried to cover up the crime, authorities said.

Valdez Guerrero eventually pleaded no contest this month and was ordered to serve three years on probation and avoided jail time. On Monday, Lopez pleaded no contest to a felony accessory charge and a misdemeanor for destroying evidence. She is scheduled for sentencing on May 16.

Gavin’s Law seeks to increase the maximum possible prison term in hit-and-run crashes from four years to six when a victim is seriously injured and up to eight years if someone is killed.

California Assemblyman Jim Patterson holds a rally to get support for Gavin's Law, which would increase the penalty for leaving the scene of a hit-and-run accident. Gavin Gladding was killed in a hit-and-run while jogging.

Patterson described the bill’s path to becoming law as an uphill battle that cleared an important hurdle Tuesday in front of the committee. Patterson said many of the committee’s members planned to vote against the bill – and the committee chair recommended a “no” vote – but Patterson said that all changed during Susan Gladding’s testimony.

“In all my time in this building, I have never seen the testimony of a witness change the hearts and minds of a committee in an instant,” Patterson said in the statement. “Susan Gladding’s testimony was powerful and it’s the reason why this bill is moving forward today.”

Patterson said new commitments to support the bill with some changes mean an amended bill will be brought back to the Public Safety Committee “in the near future for another vote.”

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