The maximum punishment Junior Rigoberto Lopez, 31, of Buena Park, could have faced was four years in prison. But Orange County Superior Court Judge Scott Steiner, who offered a plea deal that the defendant accepted, has promised he will not serve more than three years behind bars.
Steiner wanted to hear from relatives of Daniella Palacios before deciding Lopez’s punishment. The judge rescheduled sentencing to July 22 because the defendant’s attorneys did not receive a probation report until Tuesday and asked for more time to prepare.
Palacios’ mother told the judge that her daughter, who was living with her at the time, had just left the house and was run down while riding her bicycle.
“She left my house — not even five minutes — and my granddaughter and I saw her on the ground,” Julie Lopez said before ticking off the multiple injuries the victim suffered.
“I’m not going to say I hate (the defendant)… but he needs to pay the consequences,” she said.
The victim’s father, Eddie Vargas, said the defendant “turned a terrible accident into a murder … I think he needs to take ownership of the pain he has caused.”
Ramon Lopez told the judge he has been struggling to manage his anger over the death of his sister. He said he avoids going over to his mother’s home since it is so close to the scene of the collision, and bemoaned how some defendants receiver longer prison sentences for lesser crimes than taking someone’s life.
“I personally believe there’s no justice to this,” he said.
Elena Garcia wrote a statement, that was read aloud in court, about losing her mother.
“No words can ever describe the pain I’ve felt since my mother’s death,” she wrote. “My whole world has been completely shattered … I have done and made so much of my life since she’s been gone and I wish she could have been here to experience these accomplishments with me.”
Garcia said she understood the collision was an accident. “But I can’t seem to understand how a person can drive away without any sense of remorse. I constantly ask myself why a person would do such a horrible thing.”
Garcia said the defendant’s potential three-year punishment “is nothing compared to the death sentence my mother was given, and the life sentence my family and I are facing.”
One of the victim’s brothers said his sister “was a loving person to all of us. When you needed a favor, she would never say no.” Armando Lopez choked up as he described how difficult it has been to tell his daughter that her aunt has died.
“When she asked me are we going to see her again, I didn’t have no words for her,” he said. “Out of everything, that hurt me the most … I just told her the angels took her and we’ll see her soon.”
The defendant pleaded guilty April 16 to hit-and-run with permanent and serious injury for hitting Palacios with his truck last Nov. 1 about 9:10 p.m. near La Palma and Magnolia avenues and driving off after briefly stopping.
Palacios’ family said she was on her way to help feed the area homeless, a cause she frequently supported. She died at UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange about 1 a.m. on Nov. 2.
Police said when they arrested Lopez, they also seized his white 2013 Ford F-150 extra-cab pickup. Lopez drove to Mexico to get the truck repaired, and returned to Mexico on Dec. 11 to retrieve the vehicle, prosecutors said.
Palacios’ relatives said she was survived by seven children between the ages of 9 and 28, and 11 grandchildren.
— City News Service
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