Clovis News

Good student gets four years for fatal DUI

A straight-A Fresno City College student was sentenced Friday to four years in prison for his role in a fatal drunken-driving crash that killed an elderly Fresno man last year.

Michael Freeman, 24, said he was sorry for killing Don Paul Lucas, 76, and apologized to Lucas' family in Fresno County Superior Court.

Freeman's attorney, Richard Berman, also noted that his client suffers from cancer and that his dad died of cancer and his mother's cancer was in remission.

But Judge Brant Bramer said Freeman couldn't use his medical condition as an excuse for driving while intoxicated.

Though Freeman was eligible for probation, Bramer said he wanted to send a message to today's youth that drunken driving will not be tolerated.

"Young men like you think you're bullet proof," Bramer said, noting that Freeman had twice the legal limit of blood alcohol to drive when the fatal crash happened. He also had marijuana in his system.

"You need to go to prison," the judge said. "This way, it may convince a friend or relative not to do it."

The judge then ordered bailiffs to take Freeman into custody.

Afterward, Berman said it was a sad outcome for both families. "We need to hammer it into these young people's brains that drinking and driving can have tragic consequences," he said.

According to the California Highway Patrol, Freeman was westbound on McKinley Avenue about 3:30 p.m. Jan. 24, 2010, when he collided with a Nissan Frontier southbound on Highway 145 near Kerman.

Lucas, who was driving the Nissan, was pronounced dead at Community Regional Medical Center. Freeman and his passenger, Dustin Perger, 22, of Clovis, were hospitalized with serious injuries, the CHP said.

In a plea deal in March, Freeman pleaded no contest to vehicular manslaughter. In exchange, charges of speeding, driving without a license and running a stop sign, as well as drunken driving causing injury, were dismissed.

In court Friday, prosecutor Dennis Verzosa said Freeman's good grades shouldn't be a factor in his sentencing. "This case is about accountability," he said.

He said Lucas, who died a few days before his 77th birthday, was an avid San Francisco 49ers fan, had been married 56 years to his high school sweetheart -- Jo Ann -- and could fix anything. On the day of the crash, Lucas was driving home to watch the 49ers game, Verzosa said.

The judge said he was impressed with Lucas' family because they didn't want vengeance. In announcing the sentence, Bramer told Freeman that by going to prison, it would send a powerful message to today's youth, and "maybe you could save someone else's life."