A 25-year-old Fresno man was sentenced to nine years in prison for the hit-and-run collision that killed 70-year-old Ram Bhatia during his evening walk.
Matthew Hiram Chenot wept quietly on Wednesday as Judge James Kelley ordered he go to prison for his “selfish, immature and callous” behavior on Feb. 22 when he struck and killed Bhatia near Friant Road and Copper River Drive.
Chenot pleaded no contest on July 16 to one count of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
Bhatia’s son, Mitin Bhatia, spoke on behalf of the family during Chenot’s sentencing.
“Today we are asking in my father’s name for our society to realize this was not an accident,” Bhatia said. “This was totally an avoidable crime and it was a crime of murder.”
Police said Chenot and a female passenger were traveling in his black BMW at about 60 mph northbound on Friant Road when they struck Bhatia. They were on their way to Table Mountain Casino. Instead of stopping and calling 911, Chenot drove away. About 12 miles later his car broke down and he reported it stolen, said prosecutor Tim Donovan.
After police found him walking and questioned him, he eventually told the truth and admitted he hit Bhatia, Donovan said.
“He only fessed up when he realized his goose was cooked,” the prosecutor said.
Chenot’s attorney Eddie Ruiz pleaded with the judge for leniency, saying his client admits to having problems with drugs and alcohol but he wants to turn his life around and be a role model to others fighting addiction.
Chenot, speaking to Bhatia’s family, said he was sorry for what he had done and wished he could rewind time so the elder Bhatia would still be alive. He also asked for forgiveness for his reckless act and admitted to making a terrible mistake that night.
“Drinking and driving was the biggest mistake of my life,” he said.
Ruiz, who suggested probation instead of prison, said Chenot wants to be a drug counselor.
Donovan strongly disagreed, saying prison was the appropriate punishment: “If he wants to be a poster individual against drinking and driving, it would be better if he is in a prison jumpsuit so people can see the repercussions. ”