District Judge Michael O'Hara told Luke Ross Gray on Friday that he had been given two gifts: one his life and the other not having a felony conviction on his record.
Gray, a 21-year-old Eagle County resident, appeared before O'Hara for sentencing after pleading guilty May 10 to vehicular homicide and driving while ability impaired. The charges stem from a June 29, 2003, accident in which Gray was driving and Andres Hernandez, a 24-Gypsum man, died.
O'Hara sentenced Gray to 90 days in jail and gave him a four-year deferred judgment, which will allow Gray's vehicular homicide conviction to be removed from his record if he does not violate probation.
"I hope you appreciate the type of opportunity you are given today," O'Hara said. "Not every 21-year-old who comes in and kills their friend gets this opportunity. Some young men go to prison. As awful and horrible as that sounds, what sentence does a judge impose on a person who has taken the life of another person?"
The accident occurred almost a year ago when Gray was driving northbound along a private dirt road on the Bardin Ranch north of Routt County Road 6. His truck went off the right side of the road and rolled two times down a steep embankment. No one was wearing a seat belt and Hernandez, who was sitting in the center, was ejected from the vehicle.
District Attorney Kerry St. James told the court that Gray said he drank five to six beers and a shot of Crown Royal that night.
Before sentencing, Gray apologized for his friend's death, saying he would have done anything and everything to change the events of that night and will live forever with the memories.
"Words can't begin to describe how sorry I am and the remorse I feel," he said.
He also asked the court to let him move on with his life, to improve his education so he could be "a better person."
Hernandez's family gave an emotional plea to the judge. The man's mother, Socorro Chavez, spoke in Spanish to the court with her daughters, Rose Valenzuela and Noelia Hernandez, translating.
"It has just been a tragedy for his family and our family. It changed everyone's life forever. We just miss him," one of the daughters said. "Luke, we just hope he will learn from his mistakes. Hope this will help other people to know what they are doing, especially young kids. I know my brother was just like a normal teenager, it could have been him driving. It just happened it was Luke."
The benevolence of the victim's family was part of the reason for Gray's lighter sentence, O'Hara said, asking that Gray honor his friend by living a life that is an example to other 21-year-olds.
"I would tell young people, it is simply not worth the gamble to drink and drive," O'Hara said.
As part of the plea agreement with the D.A.'s office, Gray will serve 90 days in jail, complete 200 hours of community public serve and pay a total restitution of $10,852.
He will be on supervised probation for four years, undergo an alcohol evaluation and refrain from using alcohol. If Gray follows the agreement, he will have the charge of vehicular homicide, a Class 3 felony, dropped from his record in four years. If he violates the conditions, he could face four to 12 years in prison.
Before the fatal accident, Gray had no criminal or traffic record.
"Knowing you killed your friend is the worst sentence you get," O'Hara said.
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