Anna Marie Reynosa was on her way to pick up psilocybin mushrooms to get high with her mother and friends when she ran a stop sign in April 2012 and struck and killed a motorcyclist.
The jury in Reynosa’s distracted driving trial never heard that fact. Neither did it hear that Reynosa posted updates on Facebook about partying, drinking and traveling with her boyfriend in the months after the crash.
Early in her court proceedings it was determined the information about the mushrooms was prejudicial and not related to proving or disproving the legal elements of the case, and therefore could not be brought up at trial.
But it was made public Thursday at Reynosa’s sentencing for vehicular manslaughter with ordinary negligence. A jury convicted her May 30 of that misdemeanor offense instead of gross vehicular manslaughter following a three-week trial.
Judge John W. Lua sentenced Reynosa to three years supervised probation — the first 220 days to be served in jail — and told her she was “extremely fortunate” to have avoided more serious punishment.
Thursday was the first time Reynosa expressed remorse to the family of 20-year-old Charla Wilkins, the motorcyclist killed in the April 14, 2012 crash. She told them she thinks every day about Wilkins’ death.
“(Charla) didn’t deserve what happened to her and I wish I could bring her back,” she said, crying while reading from a statement. “I’m sorry my carelessness killed her.”
But prosecutor Esther Schlaerth questioned Reynosa’s sincerity.
She asked the 22-year-old Reynosa if she’d posted Facebook photos of herself partying at bars and drinking alcohol in the months after the crash despite a court order she not consume alcohol. Reynosa admitted to the drinking and partying.
The prosecutor then asked if she’d completed any community service or volunteer work since the crash. She said she hadn’t, and admitted to spending several weeks in Florida with her boyfriend as the Wilkins family mourned.
Mindy Cox, Charla Wilkins’ sister, asked the judge before sentencing to put himself in her shoes and imagine coming upon the mangled body of a loved one lying on the asphalt. Cox arrived upon the scene of the crash just after it occurred.
“I cannot sleep,” Cox said. “I’ve been told to ‘get over it.’ How do you get over something like this?”
Judge John W. Lua, before imposing sentence, said the case was extremely difficult for everyone. He addressed Reynosa, noting her planned drug use — “with your mother, no less” — on the night of the crash, and told her: “You need to change your life.”
Deputies took Reynosa into custody following sentencing. She mouthed “I love you” to her boyfriend as she was handcuffed.
The boyfriend and Reynosa’s mother declined comment afterward.
In addition to jail time and three years of formal probation during which she’ll be tested for drugs and alcohol, the case will cost Reynosa and her family thousands of dollars in legal fees, and fines ranging from payments to Wilkins’ family to probation costs. The agreed-upon fee for her legal representation through the Public Defender’s office alone is $15,000.
She also must complete 400 hours of community service. A hundred of those hours will be spent with the Mothers Against Drunk Driving program, where she’ll speak to others about the dangers of using a cellphone while driving.
Reynosa’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Ernest Hinman, objected to the search terms of Reynosa’s sentence and said he would file a motion for her probation terms to be modified. That motion is scheduled to be heard Monday and could result in changes to her sentence.
Police estimated Reynosa was traveling 63 to 68 mph when her Toyota Tacoma slammed into the back of Wilkins’ motorcycle at the intersection of Jewetta Avenue and Reina Road in northwest Bakersfield. The bike remained upright with the back portion lodged under the truck as the two vehicles traveled 331.6 feet from the point of impact.
Wilkins was stopped at a stop sign when hit. The posted speed limit in that area is 45 mph.
Reynosa told responding officers she’d been on her cellphone when she crashed. She later gave a variety of responses to detectives regarding what she’d been doing with the phone before impact.
Her responses included looking at the phone as a matter of habit; examining a received text message or phone call; being in the process of sending or receiving a message; and looking down at her phone but not manipulating it.
Investigators found a partial text message to a “Nick” on Reynosa’s phone, but there was no time stamp on the message. Schlaerth said circumstantial evidence indicated Reynosa was drafting the message at the time of the crash.
Reynosa had been cited three times for speeding in the months leading up to the crash, with one of the officers who cited her saying in reports she “drives like a maniac.”
Hinman had argued it was impossible to know when the message was written without a time stamp. He also called witnesses to testify Reynosa was traveling 45 mph or less at impact, and that factors other than being distracted by a cellphone could have led to the crash.
Hinman admitted Reynosa was negligent in running the stop sign, but said her actions fell below the threshold for gross negligence.
Family members of Wilkins cried and hugged after the proceedings. Many wore T-shirts emblazoned with photos of Wilkins.
Barbara Wilkins, Charla’s mother, said the sentence wasn’t justice. She doesn’t believe Reynosa is sorry, and she and other family members said they saw Reynosa laughing and high-fiving relatives outside the courthouse near the end of the trial.
One day she’ll forgive her, Wilkins said afterward, but it’s not something she can find in her heart right now.
Charla’s sister described her as family-oriented and headstrong. She accomplished what she set out to do, Cox said.
She said her three children miss their aunt. Charla made time for all of them, and taught the youngest daughter how to fish.
Wilkins, Cox and other family members said they would work to spread awareness of the dangers of texting while driving.
Among everyone heard from in court Thursday, perhaps the most unexpected was Charla Wilkins herself. Cox, in addressing the judge, read a letter her sister had written when applying to nursing schools.
In the letter, Wilkins said she was very determined and persistent, loved the health field and her dream was to become a nurse. She wrote she enjoyed helping others, and making someone smile brought her joy.
She said she had a lot to offer.
“I am a young woman who has many goals in life, and I plan to achieve them.”