Video: The victim, Joseph Robinson, and his girlfriend on a bike ride. Video via YouTube.
A 19-year-old woman pleaded guilty Tuesday and was immediately sentenced to 11 years in prison for fatally striking a bicyclist while driving high on methamphetamine, then fleeing the scene of the collision in Orange last year.
Sommer Nicole Gonzales of Tustin pleaded guilty to gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and hit-and-run with a death, both felonies, and was given credit for 888 days in custody.
She also admitted a sentencing enhancement for fleeing the scene of a vehicular manslaughter and was convicted of misdemeanors for possession of a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia and being under the influence of a controlled substance.
It was an open plea, meaning Orange County Superior Court Judge Robert Fitzgerald made no promises to the defendant about her punishment.
The judge, who had the discretion of imposing a term ranging from nine years on the low end to a maximum of 15 years, called Joseph Robinson’s death a “massive tragedy” and told his mother that no parent should have to outlive their child.
Friends and family members of the 21-year-old victim told the judge how Robinson’s Feb. 2, 2014, death affected them.
Valerie Dubois told the judge she has had to cut back on her hours as a school psychologist because of her son’s death.
“It’s so hard to even articulate what it’s been like,” Dubois said. “It’s so depressing to go to work that I cut down to part time.”
Dubois said it’s the “little things,” such as memories of the grocery lists he would text to her, that hit her the hardest sometimes.
“I miss him every day,” she said. “I was so proud of him, his ready smile and his kindness … I’ve been feeling so lost because it was just him and I in the apartment.”
Robinson’s father, Clifford, was also tearful as he told the judge how much he misses his son.
“The quality of our lives will never be the same because of Joey’s death,” he said, adding that his son had “met his soulmate and he was happy with his life.”
Robinson had found his niche as a bicycle salesman, his family and friends said. He was a “natural” at it and racked up impressive sales figures, they said.
The victim’s girlfriend, Sydnee Hyman, wrote a letter to the judge, saying the pain of his death “far surpasses the imagination. There are truly no words that can touch the depth of pain I feel.”
Kathryn Peek said the pain of her brother’s death led to the breakup of her marriage.
“My heart literally hurts when I think of my brother now,” she said.
Gonzales’ attorney, Doug Myers, said his client suffered “a lot of family trauma growing up. There was lots of domestic and psychological abuse.”
She was introduced to marijuana when she was 12 years old, and soon after that, “methamphetamine became her drug of choice,” Myers said.
On the day of the deadly collision, Gonzales smoked meth with two friends about 3 a.m.
When she struck Robinson, she wasn’t sure what she hit, her attorney said. She got out of the car to see what happened and did not see the victim so she kept driving, he said.
Gonzales contacted some friends saying she had been in a collision but she did not know what she hit, Myers said. She was likely unfocused — a common symptom of meth abuse — and failed to negotiate a bend in the road, hitting the victim in the process, Myers said.
“Today, Sommer wanted to take responsibility and acknowledge what she had done,” Myers said.
After the hearing, Gonzales’ mother, grandfather and grandmother apologized to some of the victim’s relatives.
Gonzales was southbound on Santiago Canyon Road when her Toyota Corolla veered into the bike lane and struck Robinson.
Orange County Fire Authority Battalion Chief Marc Stone was driving north on Santiago Canyon Road near Irvine Lake about 7 a.m. when he saw her heavily damaged vehicle. He pulled over, found the body, and phoned in a description of Gonzales’ vehicle.
Gonzales was arrested in a store parking lot in Rancho Santa Margarita, where she was transferring some items from her car to a friend’s vehicle.
— City News Service