SANTA ANA (CNS) - A 25-year-old Las Vegas man was sentenced today to 15 years to life in prison for triggering an alcohol-fueled, chain-reaction pile-up on the Santa Ana (5) Freeway in Irvine that killed a young mom and injured her 6-month-old son.
Irving Aguilar-Calixto, who turns 26 on Tuesday, was convicted Nov. 2 of second-degree murder and a count of driving under the influence causing injury with sentencing enhancements for inflicting great bodily injury on five victims.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Gary Paer could have sentenced Aguilar-Calixto to 18 more years in prison, but decided on 17 years and ran that punishment concurrent with the 15-to-life sentence. He said the major factor in that decision rested in the defendant's lack of a prior criminal history.
``He has no prior record and that is huge,'' Paer said.
The judge also noted he received a letter from the defendant's pastor and others attesting to his character.
``It appears he is a decent guy,'' Paer said. ``But this is an example of how bad things can happen to good people and how one lapse in judgment could change your whole life.''
Paer also noted the unusual circumstances of the crime, including the victim not actually being struck by the defendant's car.
``He set off a chain of events that resulted in a young mom getting killed,'' Paer said. ``This is a clear example of the hazards of drinking and driving. Nothing good comes out of drinking and driving, especially when you're driving 100 mph.''
The only fortunate thing to come out of the series of collisions is that the number of fatal victims was limited to just one, Paer said.
``When we flirt with death don't be shocked when he shows up,'' Senior Deputy District Attorney Dan Feldman said in his opening statement of the trial. ``That's what Mr. Aguilar-Calixto did.''
Aguilar-Calixto drove to Orange County to go out with friends and stay in an Airbnb in Anaheim overnight, but instead decided to drive back home in his new Dodge Challenger, Feldman said. He got behind the wheel with a blood-alcohol level of 0.20%, which is halfway between twice and three times the legal limit.
``If he slept over at that house we wouldn't be having this conversation,'' Paer said Friday at sentencing.
The prosecutor characterized it as a ``four-phase'' series of crashes that lasted over 12 minutes.
Aguilar-Calixto, who had gotten a ticket for driving 61 mph in a 35-mph zone in Las Vegas a few weeks before the crashes, never hit the brakes as he slammed into a Prius, going 108 mph southbound on the freeway near the Alton Parkway exit at 1:24 a.m. on Aug. 23, 2018, Feldman said.
A tow-truck driver stopped when he saw the crash and tried to help Aguilar-Calixto, whose broken-down car was left blocking the high-occupancy and fast lanes, Feldman said.
The driver of the Prius managed ``on three tires'' to navigate off the roadway, Feldman said. The Challenger was in a ``dim stretch of the freeway'' with its lights off, Feldman said.
Another driver in a Dodge van careened into a center divider to avoid the disabled car, Feldman said.
Then three other vehicles crashed into Aguilar-Calixto's car. One of the drivers spoke with a 911 dispatcher who was automatically called by the car's onboard security system. The driver, while stuck in the upside-down Ford Edge, gave an account of the cars slamming into the Challenger. The prosecutor played the call to jurors that included the woman saying, ``Oh my gosh, another person!''
In the last phase of collisions, 25-year-old Maria Osuna of National City was behind the wheel of a Mitsubishi Spyder, one of three more vehicles to crash into Aguilar-Calixto's vehicle and another car, Feldman said.
After she crashed into the car she stopped and unbuckled her seatbelt to check on her infant son when a van rear-ended her vehicle, killing her, Feldman said. Her son suffered skull and neck fractures.
Another diver sustained fractured vertebra, another suffered a broken nose, another sustained a concussion and another victim broke her ankle and nose.
Aguilar-Calixto admitted to California Highway Patrol officers that he knew drunk driving was wrong and dangerous and was even telling himself he had to stop drinking so he could drive home, Feldman said. Aguilar-Calixto concluded he was ``drunk'' but ``could still function,'' the prosecutor said.
Aguilar-Calixto's attorney, Fred Fascenelli, said, ``This truly is a case of personal responsibility, but it's a case where personal responsibility ends and another person's responsibility begins.''
The defense attorney acknowledged that his client ``drove drunk and was involved in an accident that he caused,'' but said the chain of events was ``broken'' when other, ``inattentive'' drivers crashed into Aguilar-Calixto's car.
``At the end of the day, Ms. Osuna's death was not as a direct result of what was put in motion by Mr. Aguilar-Calixto,'' Fascenelli said.
He said it was a ``clear night,'' and there were ``no other obstructions there other than their inattention.''