A driver who was high on heroin when he crashed into and killed a bicyclist in Newport Beach was sentenced Friday to 15 years to life in prison.
Before handing down the sentence for 24-year-old Neil Storm Stephany, Orange County Superior Court Judge Gary Paer called the defendant's decision to shoot up before getting behind the wheel “mind-boggling” — especially considering he had been convicted of driving under the influence a few years earlier.
“The only positive thing about this case is that no one else was killed,” Paer said.
Jurors convicted Stephany of murder in October for crashing his pickup into Shaun Eagleson, 30, in October 2014.
Eagleson was biking along East Coast Highway near Crystal Cove State Park when Stephany hit him and sped off, according to prosecutors.
“This was the worst day of my life,” Eagleson's mother, Sylvia Zaldivar, said Friday at Stephany's sentencing.
She vowed to attend every parole hearing for Stephany in hopes of keeping him behind bars for the rest of his life.
“No matter how much time this killer gets today, it will never be enough,” she said. “I hate him.”
In 2011, Stephany had pleaded guilty to misdemeanor driving under the influence. As part of his sentence, he was read a warning that he could face murder charges if he continued to drive while intoxicated and killed someone.
He also was convicted of felony possession of heroin with intent to sell in 2010 and felony assault and possession of a controlled substance in 2013.
Eagleson's wife, Sandra, said Stephany had not only killed her husband, but also stolen the couple's chance of having a baby.
After years of battling an autoimmune disorder, she said, she was healthy enough to sustain a pregnancy in 2014. “A selfish person killed you both,” Eagleson said, reading from a letter she said was written to her unborn baby.
Stephany, dressed in black, bowed his head as the family members described their pain. He declined to speak after they finished.
In a letter he wrote to the family from jail, Stephany apologized and took responsibility for Eagleson's death.
“This entire situation pains me deeply,” Stephany wrote in part. “I can't imagine how you feel.”
Defense attorney Brian Gurwitz asked Paer to consider a lighter sentence based on the letter and Stephany's good behavior behind bars.
Gurwitz also sought to draw a distinction between Stephany's crime and one in which the culprit intentionally kills someone. “I think that some degree of mercy is appropriate here,” he said.
Paer chose the 15-years-to-life sentence but denied prosecutors' request to add four years because Stephany was on probation at the time of the crash.
After the decision, Stephany briefly glanced at his family before sheriff's deputies led him away. As he passed Eagleson's relatives, he again stared downward.
A few feet away, Sandra Eagleson called out: “Don't do it again.”
Dobruck writes for Times Community News.