BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The two men were strangers, military veterans whose paths crossed at a stop light in southwest Bakersfield where one spun his tires, initiating a race that would kill a grandmother and entangle them in legal proceedings stretching more than three years.
In a brief statement, Pierce turned to the victims’ family and said his actions that day were “brainless” and he takes responsibility. He apologized profusely.
“I am so ashamed of myself and I don’t think I’ll ever, ever get past that,” he said.
Maldonado, 38, who hadn’t been drinking, was found guilty of gross vehicular manslaughter and sentenced to two years’ probation, the first year to be served in jail. He has 180 days of custody credits to count toward that sentence.
The two were racing north on Old River Road when Pierce’s Mustang rear-ended a minivan, knocking it over a median and into oncoming traffic, where it was hit by a crane truck. The minivan’s driver, Maria Bianey Navarro, 58, died at the scene, and two of her grandchildren suffered serious injuries.
Tests revealed Pierce’s blood-alcohol content was 0.24%, and it’s alleged he was traveling 130 mph at the time of the crash. A prosecutor said Maldonado was driving at least 100 mph.
Loneliness Vera, daughter-in-law of Navarro, read a statement before sentencing describing how the crash has devastated the family. Her father-in-law became depressed and sick and eventually died, she said, fulfilling his wish to join his wife. The grandchildren experienced excruciating pain.
“This family has endured an ocean of tears and an infinite sentence of pain and grief,” Vera said.
Pierce served in the U.S. Navy and Maldonado in the Army, which their attorneys argued should be taken into consideration. Maldonado has no prior criminal record; Pierce’s prior record was minor.
David A. Torres, the attorney representing Pierce, told the court what happened was a tragedy for both sides. He said Pierce has been remorseful since the crash and wasn’t the unfeeling person the prosecution portrayed him as at trial.
“He’s not the cold, callous individual . . . he cares,” Torres said.
Waiting for Maldonado is a family with stepchildren as well as a child of his own, said his attorney Tony Lidgett in arguing for probation. He directed the court’s attention to his client’s previously clean record and the numerous letters submitted attesting to his good character.
“This is the perfect candidate for probation and based on the law I believe he should be given a chance at it,” Lidgett said.
Prosecutor Cole McKnight argued giving Maldonado probation would be an insult to Navarr’s family.
“His actions directly contribute to Navarro’s death,” McKnight said. He argued if Maldonado hadn’t spun his tires, encouraging Pierce to race, then Navarro lives. He asked for a sentence of three years and four months in prison.
The judge said he also took Maldonado’s expressions of remorse and the fact he immediately called 911 into consideration, as well as evidence showing he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his military service, which may explain why he left the crash scene after seeing Navarro’s body.
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