PUEBLO – For causing the deaths of three Alamosa teens and injuring two others, Gilbert Sanchez, 37, of Pueblo, received a sentence yesterday of 68 years in prison.
District Judge Larry Schwartz sentenced Sanchez to 12 years on each of the three vehicular homicide-DUI charges related to the April 28, 2012 deaths of Alamosa teens Anisa Montoya, 18, Serina Sena, 14, and Selena Mascarenas, 14. The judge also sentenced Sanchez on Friday to 16 years each for two counts of child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury for his two young passengers, Jade Dorrance and Jordyn Carrillo, who were injured when he drove a pickup through a red light at the intersection of Pueblo Blvd. and Northern Ave. last April. Sanchez’s blood alcohol levels were three times the legal limit at the time.
All of the sentences were the maximum for the charges to which Sanchez pleaded guilty, and all of the sentences will run consecutively.
Victims’ family members asked the judge to impose the maximum sentences during an intense and emotional hearing Friday morning that lasted nearly three hours. Although most of the victims’ families told the judge they forgave Sanchez for what he had done, they said imposing the maximum sentence would send a message against drunk driving.
For example, Anisa’s mother Nicole Montoya said there was no sentence that could make things right for her, but she believed the maximum sentence needed to be handed down as a deterrent to others who might drink and drive.
“That night was prom night in Pueblo,” she said. “It could have been any of your daughters, any of your children. It just happened to be mine.”
Her husband, Pastor Martin Montoya said, “I have had over a year to ask God to help me to forgive … I would like to say to Gilbert I do forgive you … There’s a peace there.”
He asked the judge to sentence Sanchez to the maximum sentence to take a stand against drunk driving.
Martin Montoya said having to officiate over his own daughter’s funeral “ripped my heart out.”
He added on what would have been her 19th birthday on Feb. 1, “I really thought I was going to die. It’s taking a toll. We do have a faith in God and we have leaned wholeheartedly on Him.”
His wife said, “I have to remind myself that this is real every day and that she’s not coming home today.”
Each family shared the emotional devastation of losing their girls.
Tanya Martinez, who was raising Serina, described the teenager as “the smallest little thing with the biggest heart ever.”
She added, “She was the type of girl that would buy something for everyone else and forget about herself.”
Martinez recalled how excited Serina had been to get permission that Saturday last April to go with Anisa Montoya to Pueblo for a church event. She had been asking her mom for days if she could go, and finally Tanya gave her permission. Her last conversation with her was when Serina called from the shopping mall where Anisa and her family were buying a graduation dress, and Serina wanted to buy her mom some pants.
“The was the last ‘I love you, I’ll see you when I get home’,” Martinez recalled.
She added, “Your honor, I just want you to know that this has left such a void in our lives.”
Serina’s grandmother Rose also shared a statement she was not strong enough to read herself. She also spoke of Serina as a little girl with a big heart.
Rose said she has forgiven Sanchez and prays for him daily but also believed justice needed to be given for those whose voices he silenced.
“I hope that this court will send a message to all drunk drivers that if they choose to do what Mr. Sanchez and
countless others do, they will pay for their actions.”
Anisa’s grandmother Margie Gonzales said Sanchez made a decision that night to get into a vehicle after he had been drinking, and that vehicle became a lethal weapon.
“This behavior is unforgivable, inexcusable, not to mention unacceptable,” she said.
“What Anisa’s purpose in this life would have been or could have been we will never know thanks to this drunk man who broke the law.”
Geraldine Mascarenas served as a spokesperson for the family of Selena, her niece.
Selena would have celebrated her quinceanera, 15th birthday, this year on April 6. These and many other special occasions, from Christmases to birthdays, will be missed, Mascarenas said.
Selena will never text her family just to say “hi” or “I love you,” Geraldine added, and her family will never again feel her gentle embraces.
She described Selena as a child of God who was His faithful servant.
“I am honored I can speak of her memory in that way,” she said.
She described Selena as someone who loved animals and wanted to become a veterinarian when she grew up. She also loved photography and music, was humble, compassionate and happy and had many friends.
Expressing the sentiments of all the families, Geraldine Mascarenas said, “There’s an indescribable emotional trauma that is felt that could never be expressed or explained by words.”
She described the handmade casket, part of the Mascarenas family tradition, in which Selena was placed. It was painted with Selena’s favorite colors, red and blue.
“It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.’
Selena’s cousin Leslie Martinez asked for the full sentences for Sanchez and that they be served consecutively “because each life ended individually and each time that he serves should be served individually for all the girls.”
Selena’s mother Lynn Gutierrez told the judge, “I hope you can be the voice for these three beautiful girls.”
In addition to hearing from families of the three girls who were killed, the judge heard from Pueblo Police Officer Jeff Capito who was the first on the scene of the crash. He said in his career he has handled many accidents, including many fatal ones, but none affected him as much as this one.
He added that his wife gave birth to twins about this time, and what should have been the happiest time of his life was overshadowed by this tragedy.
He added he would do everything in his power to keep such incidents from happening again, “but if we don’t hold people accountable, we will never stop this cycle, if we don’t enforce it to the fullest.”
The judge also heard from Sanchez and members of his family who said this incident was not indicative of the kind of man they knew Sanchez to be.
Sanchez’s sister said the family is heartbroken for the victims’ families and her brother made poor choice that night he would regret for the rest of his life.
“He is a loving, kind hearted person,” she said.
She said she hoped “that one day all of our hearts can mend.”
Sanchez’s mother said, “We are all devastated over what has happened. My son is a good son. He never meant to hurt anyone.”
Sanchez also spoke to the court. He talked about the events leading up to the crash but said he did not remember all of the details of the crash and what transpired afterward.
He said his actions “tore everybody apart” and he was sorry.
“It’s just like a nightmare,” he said.
Sanchez’s attorney asked for the judge to consider that this was Sanchez’s first crime, other than traffic stops.
Prosecutors from the district attorney’s office pointed to Sanchez’s blood alcohol limit and the fact he passed out that day from excessive drinking. They also pointed to the high speeds he was driving, anywhere from 75-90 miles per hour, at the time of the crash. They asked for the maximum sentences and that they be served consecutively, to which the judge agreed.
Tessa Carrillo, Jordyn’s mother, was the only one who told Sanchez she did not forgive him. She said her daughter still suffers from the injuries she sustained that night.
She said, “Not only did he give a life sentence to himself but to five other families.”