Crime

Fresno man sentenced to nearly 15 years for deadly DUI crash

Family gather for a rosary at the corner of Chestnut and Jensen avenues where Jacqueline Rivera and her daughter, Aaliyah Chavez, were killed in a November 2014 hit-and-run crash.
Family gather for a rosary at the corner of Chestnut and Jensen avenues where Jacqueline Rivera and her daughter, Aaliyah Chavez, were killed in a November 2014 hit-and-run crash. Fresno Bee file photo

A Fresno man who killed a mother and daughter in a fiery hit-and-run collision was sentenced Friday to nearly 15 years in prison.

Rafael Arce Pedroza, 31, said in Fresno County Superior Court that he was sorry for the November 2014 deaths of Jacqueline Rivera, 40, and 11-year-old Aaliyah Chavez.

But before he could finish his apology, the victim’s husband, Jose Rivera, asked him, “Then why did you run? They could have been saved.”

Pedroza did not respond.

On Nov. 22, the two victims and other family members were returning to Fresno after celebrating a quinceañera in Del Rey.

Police say Rivera, headed north on Chestnut Avenue, was waiting at the Jensen Avenue intersection for the light to turn green when her Nissan Pathfinder was rear-ended by Pedroza’s SUV at a high rate of speed.

The impact tore open the Nissan’s fuel tank, causing it to burst into flames.

Rivera, who was driving, and Aaliyah, who was sitting in the back seat behind her mother, died in the car. Jose Chavez, who was in the right front seat, and the couple’s 17-year-old son, Jose Chavez, along with the younger Jose’s 16-year-old girlfriend, Savanni Ung, were able to escape.

Police said Pedroza limped away from the crash to an apartment on Church Avenue about a half-mile north of the crash scene.

A security guard followed him to an apartment and alerted police. Pedroza was then apprehended with the help of a police dog. Afterward, police said, he admitted to crashing into the Nissan and running away.

Then why did you run? They could have been saved.

Jose Rivera to drunken driver Rafael Arce Pedroza in court Friday

In court Friday, prosecutor Sally Moreno told Judge Jonathan Skiles that the District Attorney’s Office takes drunken-driving cases seriously. She said Pedroza pleaded no contest last month to all the charges, including two felony charges of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, driving without a license and resisting arrest.

In addition, Skiles noted for the record that Pedroza’s blood-alcohol was .28, or more than three times the legal limit to drive.

“I take full responsibility,” Pedroza said through a Spanish interpreter. “And if I could give back their lives I would.”

In announcing the punishment of 14 years and eight months in prison, Skiles said he hoped to send a message to others who drink and drive.

“This was not an accident,” Skiles said, while telling Pedroza that he chose to commit a crime when he drank and got behind the wheel of an SUV.

But Skiles also noted that Pedroza, who is married with three children, had no criminal record before the deadly crash. He also took into account that Pedroza took responsibility for his crime at an early stage in the proceedings.

“I have no doubt that you are a nice man,” Skiles told Pedroza. “But nice people can do horrible things that can result in serious and tragic consequences.”

Pablo Lopez: 559-441-6434, @beecourts

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