Fresno drunken driver apologizes to the family of man she killed

After waiting nearly a year, a Fresno woman finally got to tell the family of a man she killed in a drunken-driving crash that she was sorry.

Sheraea Lanae Gatlin wanted to apologize soon after the Aug. 10, 2015, crash that killed her boyfriend, Rodrigo Delgado, 24, but she was advised by her attorney not to implicate herself.

Because she pleaded no contest to vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, Superior Court Judge Alvin Harrell III gave Gatlin the go-ahead to read her apology to Delgado’s family and friends who filled the courtroom Thursday. Her words made some of them cry.

“I am truly sorry for the pain I have caused to your family,” a sobbing Gatlin said. “I am so ashamed of myself.”

After her apology, Harrell ordered a bailiff to handcuff Gatlin. She will be sent to prison for an evaluation to determine if she should spend time behind bars or be put on probation, the judge said.

Fresno defense attorney Gerald Schwab, who represents Gatlin, said his client is a good candidate for probation because the case has a unique set of facts. Schwab outlined what happened:

Gatlin and Delgado grew up next to each other, and before the crash, Gatlin, 24, had never even gotten a traffic ticket.

On the night of the crash, Delgado and Gatlin had gone to a pool hall at Blackstone and Sierra avenues and drank alcohol. After playing pool, Delgado said he was too drunk to drive but didn’t want to leave his car at the pool hall because it had previously been burglarized. So he asked Gatlin to drive.

Gatlin told her boyfriend that she also had been drinking and said she shouldn’t drive. She also told Delgado that she didn’t know how to drive Delgado’s car because it has a stick shift. Delgado, however, persuaded her to drive his car home.

Near Locust and Fruit avenues in northwest Fresno, Gatlin lost control of the car and hit a pole. A police reconstruction specialist said the car was going only 25 to 35 mph when it hit the pole. Gatlin and a back-seat passenger were injured, but not seriously because they were wearing seat belts and the driver’s-side air bag deployed.

The front passenger-side air bag also deployed, but it is unclear if it deployed correctly because Delgado suffered serious injuries. Schwab also said it’s unclear if Delgado was wearing a seat belt.

Gatlin, whose blood-alcohol level was around .13, which is over the .08 legal limit to drive, wanted to immediately take responsibility for the crash, Schwab said.

“She’s a good kid who has never been in trouble until this crash. She’s truly sorry and tells me that she thinks about her boyfriend every day.”

In her apology Thursday, Gatlin said, “I wish I could go back in time and make a better decision. I hope one day your family will be able to forgive me.”

Pablo Lopez: 559-441-6434, @beecourts