A driver with seven prior DUIs who was under the influence of methamphetamine in April when he ran over an elderly couple walking on a sidewalk in northeast Bakersfield was sentenced Tuesday to 78 years to life in prison.
The prosecutor said Oscar Jimenez, 47, was a “classic career criminal” who had numerous chances to avoid what is in effect the life sentence delivered Tuesday in Department 6 of Kern County Superior Court. Jimenez had been found guilty in May of charges including two counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of Al and Annabelle Cichy.
“One of the worst crimes that can be committed,” Judge John R. Brownlee said of the offense. “The defendant cannot return the lives he’s taken.”
Jimenez briefly addressed the court before sentencing, facing two people attendeding on behalf of the Cichy family.
“I’m very sorry for this accident,” Jimenez said, his voice breaking. “I pray that you forgive me.”
Deputy District Attorney Robert Murray said the Cichys walked together every day as they picked up trash in the neighborhood. Al Cichy, 70, and Annabelle Cichy, 80, held hands as they made their daily rounds along Auburn Street, where they were struck by Jimenez April 26, 2011.
Brownlee said before sentencing he took numerous factors into consideration, including letters sent by family and friends of Jimenez, but also the defendant’s lengthy criminal record - including his numerous prior DUIs. The judge said that in an interview with authorities after his arrest Jimenez called what happened to the Cichys an accident.
“This was no accident,” Brownlee said as he imposed the sentence.
Family of Jimenez hugged and cried outside the courtroom.
“We support and love our brother,” said Kathleen Jimenez, a sister of the defendant.
Cichy family members did not wish to comment.
The prosecutor said Jimenez racked up five DUIs in the 1980s, one in 2002 and another in 2009 before the crash that killed the Cichys. The first six DUIs involved alcohol, the last two meth.
The proceedings began with defense attorney Bill Slocumb arguing for a new trial. He said most of Jimenez’s prior DUIs brought up during the trial occurred decades ago and involved alcohol, and were far different than the incident that currently landed him behind bars.
Slocumb said that when Jimenez was in a rehabilitation facility following his 2009 arrest for driving under the influence of meth he was told he could drive if he slept for eight to 10 hours after using the drug. On the morning of the crash that killed the Cichys, Jimenez was in what Slocumb called the “withdrawal phase” of meth use and believed he was fine to drive based on what he’d been told.
The attorney also said Jimenez fell asleep at the wheel before hitting the Cichys, and therefore there was no malice in his actions as required for a second-degree murder conviction.
After hearing Slocumb’s argument, Brownlee said Jimenez knew enough - even if eight to 10 hours had passed since using meth - not to get behind the wheel of a vehicle if he was still under the influence. He denied the motion for a new trial.
Murray said outside court that Jimenez deserved the stiff penalty, adding he found Slocumb’s argument regarding the differences between driving under the influence of alcohol or meth without merit.
Either, Murray said, is dangerous and potentially deadly.
“It’s like the difference between shooting into a crowd with a handgun and then a shotgun,” he said.