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Motorist gets 15 years to life in DUI-related death

Carlos Bonifacio Garcia’s decision to drive drunk on July 15, 2017 has led to a prison term of at least 15 years.

Garcia, 27, was sentenced Thursday to 15 years to life in prison by Kern County Superior Court Judge Charles Brehmer for killing a man due to driving under the influence of alcohol. He has also been ordered to pay restitution to the victim’s family at an amount to be determined.

“It was absolutely appropriate,” Kim Richardson, an attorney with the Kern County District Attorney’s Office, said of the sentence. “We aggressively pursue these kinds of cases in an attempt to prevent tragedies like this. These are circumstances that are avoidable.”

Garcia’s attorney, Jonathan Rapel with Los Angeles-based Moaddel Law Firm, declined to comment on Thursday.

On the morning of the crash, Garcia was driving eastbound on Taft Highway west of Stine Road when he swerved into the opposite lane of traffic and collided with a pickup truck, according to court documents.

The collision severely injured 25-year-old Francisco De La Cruz, who was taken to Kern Medical Center for treatment. De La Cruz died of his injuries a few hours later. He left behind a fiancee and two small children, as well as his parents, siblings and other family.

According to court documents, Garcia admitted to driving drunk after alcohol containers were found in his vehicle. He had a blood-alcohol content of 0.23 percent, three times the 0.08 legal limit.

Garcia pleaded no contest to a charge of second-degree murder on May 23. Four additional charges were dismissed, according to the court.

At Thursday’s sentencing, several members of De La Cruz’s family spoke, as well as his fiancee, Alisa Wheeler.

“You stole the love of my life, my best friend,” she said to Garcia. “He did not deserve to die for your actions. I wish it was you who were dead instead of him. I hate you with my whole heart and soul.”

Wheeler said De La Cruz was a great fiance and father who loved his two boys.

“Do you know how hard it is to tell my boys that their father will never come home?” she said. “My sons miss their dad. We all miss him so much.”

The victim’s mother, Adriana De La Cruz, talked about what it was like to hear from the hospital that her son was in an accident, and the inevitable visit from a doctor to break the terrible news to them.

“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Our lives changed forever,” she said. “I don’t know what to do now. Because of [Garcia’s] actions, I’ve lost my only son. Now all we have left of him are pictures and memories.”

The victim’s sister, Elizabeth De La Cruz, said she had a great relationship with her brother, who she said was a hard worker and a kind-hearted person. She said she hopes Garcia understands what he took away from her family.

“Because of you, my family will never be the same,” she said. “When you’re in prison, you will have the opportunity to talk and visit with family and friends. One day, you will be able to leave and be with your family. The only way we can see my brother now is to go to a cemetery and talk to a headstone.”

Garcia was still and silent during the family’s statements and did not provide any comment afterward. However, prior to the statements, Rapel said a few words on Garcia’s behalf.

“On behalf of my client, he expresses his condolences to the victim’s family and friends. He understands the grave consequences of his actions,” he said.

Judge Brehmer also had a few comments on the case after he announced the sentence for Garcia.

“The De La Cruz family is certainly a strong family. It’s absolutely clear that Frankie was a wonderful young man,” he said. “It’s also clear to me that because of the strength and unity of the De La Cruz family, these boys will be raised to be wonderful men. I hope you have peace in your lives.”

Joseph Luiz can be reached at 395-7368 or by email at jluiz@bakersfield.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @JLuiz_TBC. 

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