A man was sentenced to 37 years and eight months to life in prison Thursday in Fresno County Superior Court for killing another man in a car crash during a drug-induced attempt to escape from police.
Walter Levon McDaniel, 39, read a letter asking for forgiveness from Earnest Grant’s family nearly four years after his actions led to the man’s death.
“If I could switch places with your husband, I would,” McDaniel said. He told Grant’s widow, Victoria Westbrooks, and several of her family members that he was high on drugs, but “there were no excuses.”
McDaniel pleaded no contest to second-degree murder and felony child endangerment in January.
He was everything to me. And I do forgive you. That’s all.
Victoria Westbrooks, widow of Earnest Grant
On July 17, 2013, McDaniel stole a car from a Fresno used car lot. He picked up a woman and a 13-year-old boy as passengers. When he began driving erratically, police attempted to stop him. McDaniel fled, reaching speeds of 100 mph and running six stop signs before slamming into a car driven by the 55-year-old Grant at Marks and North avenues.
Westbrooks held her wedding photo as she stepped to a podium in Judge Brian Alvarez’s courtroom.
“You took the best thing – the best person – away from me,” she told McDaniel. “He was everything to me. And I do forgive you. That’s all.”
Phillis Batty, Grant’s youngest sister, fought back tears as she addressed McDaniel. She said Grant lived with her and watched out for her after their parents died.
“He helped me raise my kids. I have a grandchild he will never meet,” Batty said, looking back at a stroller parked behind her in the silent courtroom. “What you took from us wasn’t just a person. It was my life.”
Batty’s voice rose.
“You took him from me,” she said. “I don’t hate you, but I want you to remember this was a person – not just a name.”
He feels terrible.
Robert Lamanuzzi, attorney for Walter Levon McDaniel
Batty told McDaniel to “do something with yourself,” to which he responded, “I will.”
McDaniel’s arrest came at the end of a two-year spree in which he committed various driving-related crimes, including leading police on a chase in 2012 and side-swiping a big-rig in Madera the following year. He was also arrested in 2013 when police found him driving a missing boy around in a stolen van. In all, he was charged with 14 felonies and three misdemeanors. If he had not accepted the plea, a conviction could have meant 67 years to life in prison.
Robert Lamanuzzi, McDaniel’s attorney, said he’d heard his client “doesn’t have a mean bone in his body” but has a drug problem.
“He feels terrible,” Lamanuzzi said.
In a related civil lawsuit, Westbrooks received a $950,000 settlement from the dealership where McDaniel stole the car. My Auto Maxx and its affiliate did not admit any wrongdoing in that case.