Family of convicted Clovis DUI driver asks judge for leniency in crash that killed teen

Police are investigating a three-car collision in southeast Fresno that left one man dead Feb. 17. 2019.
Police are investigating a three-car collision in southeast Fresno that left one man dead Feb. 17. 2019. The Fresno Bee

Rocky LaJoie of Clovis was sentenced Thursday to nine years, four months in prison for a DUI-related car crash that killed a 19-year-old student visiting from Los Angeles.

The crash happened at about 7 p.m. Feb. 17 in southeast Fresno as LaJoie, 32, was driving a Toyota sedan north on Chestnut Avenue.

Police said LaJoie smashed into the rear end of a Jeep Cherokee causing it to overturn. LaJoie’s Toyota then slammed into another vehicle heading south on Chestnut Avenue.

One of the passengers in the Jeep, Hector Sandoval, 19, was pronounced dead at the scene. Two additional passengers, both children, were taken to Community Regional Medical Center where they were treated and released.

Cynthia Moreno, who was a passenger in the Jeep and a longtime friend of Sandoval, still has vivid memories of the crash.

“We were in the car, coming back from eating dinner, when we felt something hit us very hard,” she said. “But we didn’t hear any tires braking or anything like that, just the car hitting us and then the car rolled over. “

Sandoval was in the back seat with her two children. He and Moreno grew up together in Mexico and were like cousins she said. His mother, who lives in Mexico, was devastated with news that her only son died.

“She is still so very sick about it,” she said.

LaJoie pleaded no contest in August to gross vehicular manslaughter and DUI with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more, causing injury.

During his sentencing before Judge Mike Idiart, LaJoie apologized for the pain he’s caused the Hernandez family and the sorrow he’s brought on his own parents.

“I was irresponsible and never meant for any of this to happen,” LaJoie said. “And I do take responsibility for what I have done. I hope that one day the family will be able to forgive me.“

LaJoie’s defense attorney D.J. Brickey asked the judge for probation for his client, saying he does not have a criminal history and is a father of a 1-year old child. He also supports four children from a previous marriage.

Brickey said LaJoie is not typical of other DUI defendants who have multiple offenses and show no signs of remorse.

LaJoie’s father Randolph LaJoie acknowledged his son caused a terrible tragedy to happen. But, he said his son deserves a chance to be there for his child, not locked in a prison.

“His child is going to miss him. He has not been in this kind of trouble before,” Randolph LaJoie said. “We know there is always going to be consequences, but he has the love and support of his family, we believe that he can use some help.”

Prosecutor Esmeralda Garcia, who specializes in felony DUI cases, pushed for the maximum of 10 years in prison.

“There is no dispute that Mr. LaJoie is a decent person who has no criminal history but that is the problem with these cases,” she said. “Anyone who is driving intoxicated whether from drugs or alcohol has the potential to be in this position. And how many times will we continue to let this happen?”

Idiart agreed in sentencing LaJoie, reiterating the idea that good people sometimes do bad things, but there still must be consequences. He said his priority in making a decision is to protect the public along with deterring others from committing the same crime. Lower on that priority list are the needs of the defendant.

“You are lucky that you have the support of your family,” Idiart said. “You don’t give up on your child when they do stupid and bad things.”

LaJoie must serve 85 percent of his setence before he’ll be eligible for parole.

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A Valley native, Robert has worked at The Fresno Bee since 1994, covering various topics including education, business and agriculture. He currently covers courts.