A young Fresno woman was sentenced Monday to six years in prison for driving under the influence of a prescription drug and killing a family man in a traffic collision in June last year.
In announcing the punishment, Fresno County Superior Court Judge Jonathan Conklin pointed out that no one in court said 19-year-old Alyssa Gonzales was a horrible person.
Instead, the judge said Gonzales made a horrible decision to drive while still under the influence of Lyrica, an anti-epileptic drug that the Internet says works by slowing down impulses in the brain that cause seizures.
“You knew you shouldn’t drive,” the judge told Gonzales.
Gonzales shook her head in agreement.
Fresno police said Gonzales was driving her blue Jaguar south on Blackstone Avenue at an unsafe speed and without a license when she attempted to turn west onto Shields Avenue around 6:30 a.m. June 5. She lost control of her car, jumped the center median, and hit a white Toyota, which was stopped on eastbound Shields.
The driver of the pickup, David Torres Sr., 43, of Fresno, was seriously injured. He died nearly four hours later.
In January this year, Gonzales avoided a trial by pleading guilty to gross vehicular manslaughter while under the influence of a drug, driving under the influence of a drug, speeding, driving without a license, and making an unsafe turn or lane change. In exchange for her plea, the judge could have sentenced her to up to 10 years in prison.
He was my soul mate. My best friend. But now I live with sadness every day. When he died, a part of me died with him.
Michelle Torres, the victim’s wife of 26 years
At Monday’s hearing, Torres’ family cried as they described him as a hard-working man who had three children and five grandchildren and went to work at a fence company every day without complaining.
“He was my soul mate. My best friend,” Michelle Torres, the victim’s wife of 26 years, told Conklin. “But now I live with sadness every day. When he died, a part of me died with him.”
Gonzales’ family also addressed the judge, saying the collision was an accident.
“Alyssa is kindhearted. She made a mistake and mistakes happen,” said Jessica Tidwell, the defendant’s cousin. “She’s not a menace to society.”
“She will be haunted for the rest of her life,” Fresno defense attorney Douglas Foster said, because Alyssa Gonzales made eye contact with the victim right before impact.
Defense attorney Douglas Foster argued that Gonzales should be given probation since she took responsibility for her actions by pleading guilty.
Gonzales deserves leniency, Foster said, because she didn’t go to a bar and get drunk. Instead, she took pills that she never had taken before. And when the pills started to take effect, she didn’t drive, but instead went to sleep, Foster said.
Gonzales then made the wrong decision by driving while she was still groggy, Foster said.
Gonzales is remorseful, Foster said, because she asked a police officer repeatedly about the victim’s condition.
“She will be haunted for the rest of her life,” Foster said, because she made eye contact with the victim right before impact. “This was a huge wake-up call for her,” Foster told the judge. “She is young enough to get her life in order.”
Prosecutor Sally Moreno, however, argued for the maximum penalty, saying Gonzales has a history of abusing drugs such as marijuana, Ecstasy, Vicodin and Xanax. Gonzales also knew first-hand of the dangers of driving under the influence, Moreno said. According to Moreno, Gonzales told authorities that some of her family members had been killed by drunken drivers and that made her furious.
Gonzales is a danger, Moreno said, because she took a drug without knowing what it would do to her.
And to portray the deadly collision as an accident, Moreno said, “is patently offensive.”