A Fresno man was sentenced Wednesday to 19 years to life in prison for getting drunk and causing a collision that killed a man and seriously injured his wife as they headed to a Thanksgiving family gathering six years ago.
In announcing the sentence, Judge Jonathan Conklin said he had no doubt Cesar Gonzalez Moreno, 40, was remorseful for killing Eugenio Fuentes Ramirez and seriously injuring Petra Hilda Silvas on Highway 180 near Marks Avenue.
But Conklin said he wanted to send a message to anyone who thinks it’s all right to drink and drive.
“I’m not punishing you for being an alcoholic,” Conklin told Moreno. “I’m punishing you because you are an alcoholic who got behind the wheel of a car and killed someone.”
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I’m not punishing you for being an alcoholic. I’m punishing you because you are an alcoholic who got behind the wheel of a car and killed someone.
Judge Jonathan Conklin
The collision happened shortly before noon on Thanksgiving 2010. Moreno, driving a Chevrolet El Camino, was traveling west on Highway 180 when he rear-ended a Ford Explorer driven by Silvas. The California Highway Patrol said the couple were wearing seat belts, but the impact caused Silvas to be ejected from the Explorer. Her husband was pronounced dead at the scene.
About two hours after the collision, Moreno’s blood-alcohol level was 0.30, nearly four times the legal driving limit of 0.08 percent, court records said.
Moreno, who has been in custody since the collision, faced a murder charge because he had a prior conviction in 2009 for drunken driving, said prosecutor Sally Moreno, who is not related to the defendant. At the time of his conviction, a judge had warned Moreno that if he drove drunk again and killed someone, he could face a murder charge.
Sally Moreno also said there was evidence the defendant was involved in a hit-and-run collision on Highway 99 in Fresno right before he hit the Explorer.
In October, Moreno accepted responsibility for his actions, pleading no contest to murder, drunken driving causing injury and drunken driving, defense attorney Amy Guerra said.
The collision happened shortly before noon on Thanksgiving 2010.
In court papers, Guerra said Cesar Moreno has struggled with alcoholism since his youth, when he was abused by a relative. But he also experienced success as an executive chef, working in places such as Harris Ranch restaurant, Visalia Country Club and Whole Foods Market. In 2005, he was a volunteer in feeding victims of Hurricane Katrina, which caused severe destruction along the Gulf Coast, Guerra said.
Moreno also cooked in fundraisers for churches and the homeless, Guerra said.
Moreno sought help for his addiction to alcohol in October 2010 and completed a program, Guerra said. But he had a relapse the night before the fatal collision, the lawyer said.
In court Wednesday, Moreno wiped tears from his eyes as his two teenage children, Cesar Jr. and Samantha, told Conklin their mother was dead and that they missed their father and loved him. Their statements hit a nerve with the prosecutor.
“It’s hard not to be moved by Moreno’s children,” Sally Moreno said. “And I believe (the defendant) understands what he’s done.”
“But we are not judging the person,” the prosecutor told the judge. “We are judging his conduct and that conduct was egregious.”