Ronald Carey Marshall Jr. acknowledged he was on a motorcycle that careened off the roadway and crashed in January 2014, killing his brother-in-law.
But Marshall, who was drunk, told law enforcement he hadn't been driving, court documents said. Marshall said his brother-in-law was the driver, and he was sitting behind him, sharing the same seat, when the bike left the roadway and his brother-in-law just "vanished in front of him."
Investigating officers didn't buy it. A California Highway Patrol officer wrote in the documents that he found it unlikely a driver would be thrown from a motorcycle while a passenger safely remained in the seat.
On Tuesday, Judge Charles R. Brehmer sentenced Marshall to a total of 16 years in prison on a charge of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, including enhancements for fleeing the scene and having a prior prison term on his record.
Marshall, 33, pleaded guilty last month to the charge in exchange for the dismissal of other charges, including second-degree murder, which carried a potential life sentence.
Given the circumstances and the state of the law, Marshall was given a "fair" sentence, Supervising Deputy District Attorney Jim Simson said.
He said the mother of the victim, Christopher Charles Dross, 29, had planned to address the court, but her husband died last week and she was unable to attend. Despite that, Simson said the family asked that the sentencing go forward as planned as they wanted to put the case behind them.
John Patrick Ryan, the Visalia-based attorney who represented Marshall, declined comment.
Marshall was driving on Highway 119 just north of Midway Road, near Taft, on Jan. 26, 2014, when he crashed into a guardrail. Dross was thrown and died at the scene.
Marshall fled to a relative's house and said he had crashed and couldn't find Dross, court documents said. He and the relative returned to the scene after calling 911.
Officers arrived and found the body of Dross on the west side of the guardrail and down an embankment, the documents said. The road curves to the left at a 90-degree angle where the crash occurred.
According to the documents, breath tests given to Marshall returned a blood alcohol content of 0.17 and 0.18, more than twice the legal limit. He failed a series of field sobriety tests.
Marshall was previously convicted of driving under the influence, and was driving on a suspended license at the time of the crash, authorities said.
Simson said he hopes Marshall's time in prison provides him with a chance to reflect on the damage he's caused, and possibly turn his life around and do something positive.
For Dross' family, Simson said he just hopes life gets easier.
"Something like that's irreparable," he said of Dross' death.