Anisa Montoya, Serina Sena, and Selena Mascarenas
PUEBLO — Gilbert Sanchez, 37, of Pueblo, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to three counts of vehicular homicide-DUI, one for each of the three Alamosa teens he killed when his vehicle ran a red light and crashed into their car last April.
In tears for the first time, Sanchez admitted to Pueblo District Judge Larry Schwartz he was responsible for the deaths of Anisa Montoya, 18, Serina Sena, 14, and Selena Mascarenas, 14, on April 28, 2012. The Alamosa youth were leaving a church event when their car was hit by Sanchez’s truck at Northern Ave. and Pueblo Blvd. in Pueblo.
Sanchez was scheduled to go to trial on April 2, nearly a year after the fatal crash. Instead, he pleaded guilty yesterday afternoon to felony vehicular homicide-driving under the influence as well as two counts of felony child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury to the two passengers in his vehicle who were injured in the crash. Nine other charges were dismissed as part of the plea agreement.
The judge said Sanchez could be sentenced to as much as 68 years in prison if sentenced at the high end of the presumptive, or normal, range for each count and if the sentences run consecutively. Judge Schwartz scheduled sentencing for Friday, May 17 at 9 a.m., with the full day set aside for the sentencing hearing if necessary. Attorneys indicated the hearing would be comprised of both witness statements and evidence. The attorneys said they believed the sentencing hearing could be concluded in half a day but the judge scheduled the entire day to make sure there was plenty of time for those who wanted to speak before he passed down the sentences.
No promises were made to Sanchez as to what sentences he would receive except that as part of the plea agreement he would not be sentenced to more than the normal range for each of the charges to which he pleaded guilty on Wednesday.
The sentencing range for each of the vehicular homicide charges is 4-12 years in the Department of Corrections, and the sentencing range for each of the child abuse-causing serious bodily injury charges is 4-16 years.
Judge Schwartz said the sentences could also include fines and restitution. In addition, Sanchez would have mandatory parole following the completion of his sentences.
Sanchez, who has been free on bond, was taken into custody after Judge Schwartz took his plea yesterday. Sanchez’s attorney, Deputy State Public Defender Seth Johnson asked for Sanchez to remain free on bond until sentencing so he could have more time to spend with his family before going to prison, probably for the rest of his life.
Assistant District Attorney Anthony Marzavas respectfully objected, and the judge agreed with Marzavas that due to the nature of the charges and potential sentence in this case Sanchez’s bond should be revoked and he should be placed in custody until sentencing.
Judge Schwartz asked Marzavas if the victims’ families were in agreement with the plea entered by Sanchez. Marzavas said he had had multiple conversations with the families and they indicated to him they were in agreement with the pleas.
Family members and friends of the three victims filled half of the courtroom on Wednesday. Many were wearing shirts with the girls’ pictures on them. A member of the court security guard told the families the judge’s policy would not allow them to wear “in memory” shirts in the courtroom, so they would have to go to the restroom and turn them inside out or wear coats or sweaters over them.
Before taking his plea yesterday, Judge Schwartz asked Sanchez numerous questions to make sure he was giving his plea voluntarily and with a knowledge of the rights he was giving up by taking a plea agreement, rather than going to trial. Those rights included a trial during which Sanchez could testify or not and the prosecution would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Sanchez was guilty. Those rights also included the ability to appeal a verdict, if convicted.
Sanchez repeatedly told the judge he was aware of the consequences of his plea and was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs on Wednesday, although he admitted to being under the influence of alcohol on the evening of the fatal crash.
Sanchez pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol on April 28, 2012, with his resulting conduct causing the deaths of Anisa Montoya, Serina Sena, and Selena Mascarenas.
He also pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury on April 28, 2012, to Jade Dorrance and Jordyn Carrillo, passengers in his truck that evening.
Sanchez told the judge he understood the elements of each charge, which the DA’s office would have had to prove at trial.
When the judge asked Sanchez what happened on April 28, 2012, that caused him to plead guilty to these charges, Sanchez hesitated and conferred with his attorney as to what to answer. He then basically repeated the elements of the charges, telling the judge he was under the influence of alcohol while driving a vehicle and that he caused the deaths of Anisa Montoya, Serina Sena, and Selena Mascarenas and the injuries of Jade Dorrance and Jordyn Carrillo.
The judge then asked Sanchez what his plea was to each of the charges, with the judge repeating the specific charge. To each charge Sanchez verbally pleaded guilty. He had already signed a plea agreement admitting guilt.
Schwartz accepted Sanchez’s guilty pleas and stated on the record he determined Sanchez entered his pleas voluntarily and with a full understanding of the consequences.
Charges dismissed as part of Sanchez’s plea agreement were: felony vehicular homicide-driving in a reckless manner causing death, one count for each of the three Alamosa teens; felony vehicular assault-driving under the influence causing serious bodily injury, one count for each of his passengers; and felony vehicular assault-driving in a reckless manner causing serious bodily injury, one count for each of his passengers.