Father Accused in Fatal Crash Freed to Attend Son's Funeral : Tragedy: Sheriff takes the unusual step even though the man is accused of drunk driving that led to his child's death.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Shackled and surrounded by sheriff's deputies, a North Hollywood man who authorities say ignored the pleas of his wife not to drive drunk faced the tragic consequences of his actions Tuesday at the funeral of his 5-year-old son.

More than 200 mourners attended services for William Anthony Guzman, a kindergartner who was thrown from the car and killed while accompanying his father on a Saturday night beer run. In an unusual decision, Sheriff Sherman Block gave permission for the father, Pedro Guzman, to attend the service.

Guzman, 35, who has three previous drunk driving convictions, is being held at County Jail in lieu of $1-million bail on charges of second-degree murder in the death of his son. Inmates accused of such serious crimes and with bail in excess of $50,000 are not granted such requests, authorities said.

"Sheriff Block looked at the circumstances and decided to show a little compassion to the man," said Sheriff's Department spokesman Sgt. Larry Lincoln. "It appears that it was not a crime committed with any premeditation. But it is not something we normally do."

The funeral was marked by grief, not blame. The boy's mother, Maria, said later that punishment of her husband will do nothing to bring back their son.

As Pedro Guzman entered Holy Family Episcopal Mission in North Hollywood, accompanied by an entourage of plainclothes deputies, his handcuffs were removed. Still shackled around the ankles, he was led to an empty pew in a back row of the church, isolated from the rest of his grieving family, including his wife, who authorities say begged him not to leave with their son the day he was killed.

Dressed in street clothes, the distraught Guzman shook his head and occasionally put his hands together in prayer. His wife, who sat with family and friends, cried throughout the hourlong service.

"To have a death of a child is difficult enough. But to have a death of a child and a tragedy of a father compounds our sorrow and grief," the Rev. Barry Verdi, pastor of the Holy Family mission, said during the service. ". . . If we live in a society that does not allow redemption and compassion, then we are a society that's going to collapse onto itself."

A small white casket, topped with pink and white carnations and a framed photograph, held the child's body.

Police say that when Guzman drove with his son to buy more beer May 7, his blood-alcohol level was 0.13%--well over the legal limit of 0.08%. Prosecutors allege that Guzman swerved into oncoming traffic and collided with a pickup truck on Riverton Avenue near Arminta Street in Sun Valley.

According to the district attorney's office, Guzman should have known "somebody could die, but he drove anyway"--knowledge based on his past convictions and court-ordered attendance at courses teaching the dangers of drunk driving.

But defense attorneys are expected to argue that Guzman was not entirely to blame because both motorists were legally drunk. The driver of the pickup truck has pleaded no contest to a charge of driving under the influence and was sentenced to 193 days in jail.

Although the Sheriff's Department allowed Guzman to attend the church service, it denied him permission to witness the graveside ceremony at Forest Lawn in the Hollywood Hills.

Stepping out under the green tent against the light drizzle, the boy's mother, Maria, gently tossed a single red rose into the grave. She let out a cry as workers put the soil back into the grave.

Nine-year-old Alma Rosa Guevara cried each time William's name was mentioned. She was a friend and playmate, said the girl's father, Juan Jose Guevara.

"He was like a son to me," said Guevara said of the boy.

Guevara said his 5-year-old son, who would play football with William, "thinks his friend is sick and he'll come back."

The youngsters were joined by some of William's classmates at Strathern Street Elementary School.

After the service, Maria Guzman was shielded by family and friends in an attempt to avoid cameras and reporters. She hid her face using the framed picture of her son as she was led to a car.

Later in the day, during a telephone interview, she said she did not want to speculate on what happened the day her son died. But she pleaded for mercy for her husband.

"Our son is dead and we cannot do anything about it, " she said. "I want (Pedro) to get out soon so he can support his family." The couple also have an 11-year-old son.

Verdi said, "Pedro needs time to redeem and the family needs time to grieve. Society is too vindictive and too vengeful."

If found guilty of second-degree murder, Pedro Guzman faces 15 years to life in prison.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
62°