A drunken driver who struck and killed a 13-year-old boy was sentenced to two years in prison Tuesday not because he caused the accident -- officers say he didn't -- but because he left the scene.
Dennis Ray Ozaeta, 26, had hoped to be sentenced to probation, but Judge H.A. "Skip" Staley instead imposed the low term of two years. Ozaeta had faced a maximum of four years after pleading no contest in March to hit-and-run causing death or permanent serious injury and DUI.
Ozaeta attorney H.A. Sala said his client and his family are upset but dealing with the judge's decision.
"It's a lot better than what the prosecutor asked for," Sala said.
Deputy District Attorney Dianna Carter had argued four years was appropriate. Afterward, she said she was satisfied by the two-year term and that even a sentence of 200 years may not have been enough for the pain the victim's family has gone through.
Connie Medina, mother of victim Israel Medina, said justice wasn't served.
"Two years is nothing for him," she said of Ozaeta.
Ozaeta was driving west on Virginia Avenue the evening of June 24, 2012 with his two young children in the vehicle when he struck Israel Medina at Larry Street. Medina was riding a scooter at the time and both he and his dog, Bella, were killed.
Instead of stopping, Ozaeta left the scene and drove to his parents' residence nearby. Why he did so was the main debate during Tuesday's court proceeding.
Carter said Ozaeta knew he'd struck someone and was in trouble. The prosecutor said Ozaeta had a blood alcohol content of .20 -- two and a half times the legal driving limit -- and a previous conviction for hit-and-run when he crashed into a power pole in 2007.
If he planned to return to where he hit Israel, Carter asked, why was he still at his parents' residence 25 minutes later when confronted by law enforcement? She said Ozaeta lied to law enforcement and told them the vehicle was his but that he hadn't been driving.
He was never going to the return to the scene, she said.
Sala, however, said Ozaeta left the scene to comfort his children and put them to bed before returning. He told his parents that's what he was doing, and the parents told law enforcement that's what their son's plan had been.
The fact that the parents backed up their son's claim that he was going to return to the scene is important, Sala said. Ozaeta had no time to formulate any sort of story to tell his parents, he just told them the truth, the attorney said.
Sala spoke at length about how Israel's death occurred through no fault of Ozaeta. Sala said the teen was riding a scooter at night the wrong way in a lane he wasn't supposed to be in and without a light to make him visible to traffic.
"This was an unavoidable accident," Sala said.
He noted his client's lack of a criminal record with the exception of a 2007 property hit-and-run, which was a misdemeanor. Sala said his client was a suitable candidate for probation and, to allay concerns of him reoffending, the judge could sentence him to probation with the understanding he would immediately be sent to prison for any violation of his probation terms.
The judge took the comments of both Sala and Carter into consideration, as well as the probation report and letters submitted by both the victim's and the defendant's families. Carter wanted four years, Sala wanted probation.
Staley met them in the middle with the two-year sentence. He agreed the crash wasn't the fault of Ozaeta, but said there are reasons there are laws in place about leaving the scene of an accident.
Ozaeta exercised poor judgment and his thinking was probably clouded by his use of alcohol, Staley said. He deemed the low term appropriate.
Monica Medina, Israel's aunt, said the family celebrated Israel's fourteenth birthday at his gravesite on Jan. 19. She said the family has been forever changed and left in heartache.
"It was a human life he destroyed," she said of Ozaeta.
Monica Medina said Ozaeta never showed remorse or even made an attempt at an apology to her family.
Connie Medina said she always used to take her son to school, but now she has to visit his grave. She said she doesn't know how to be without Israel, and she prays to God every day to give her hope and strength to see her through this suffering.
There are days when she feels like she's going crazy with grief, she said.
Before his client addressed the court, Sala said he advised his client not to reach out to the Medina family while litigation was ongoing. Sentencing is the appropriate time for such comments, he said.
Ozaeta then stood and read his statement.
"There's no perfect way to say I'm sorry for what I've done," he began.
At times he glanced over at the Medina family and his voice shook as he told them he understood their anger. He said he'd be angry too if his child was killed.
Ozaeta said he'll never forget the day he struck Israel because not only was the Medina family changed forever, but his family also will never be the same. He admitted he can't imagine the pain Connie Medina has been enduring, but he said he hoped that some day she could forgive him.