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Guilty of ‘a Senseless Crime’ : Drunk Driver Gets 6-Year Term for Killing La Habra Officer

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Capping an emotion-filled hearing, a 51-year-old La Mirada metalworker was sentenced to six years in state prison Monday after pleading guilty to charges stemming from a drunk-driving collision last fall that killed La Habra Police Officer Michael A. Osornio.

Marco Villegas Ramirez was led away in handcuffs after the two-hour hearing, during which Osornio’s relatives and fellow officers tearfully castigated the defendant and asked for the maximum 10-year sentence.

More than 50 people, some wearing memorial photographs of Osornio pinned to their clothes, attended the arraignment in Orange County Superior Court.

“Not only did you take his life away, but you took my life away,” said Osornio’s fiancee, Chartina Skipper. “I will never forgive you for what you took away from me.”

Osornio, 26, was on routine patrol on La Habra Boulevard last Oct. 31 when Ramirez’s car careened through a stoplight at an estimated 60 m.p.h. and smashed into the police cruiser, pinning the officer inside. Osornio died several hours later.

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Ramirez, who was injured in the 9:22 p.m. crash, was found to have a blood-alcohol level of .18--more than double the legal limit--although co-workers and friends said he usually drank little and lectured to them against driving while drunk.

Ramirez, dressed in a tan suit, expressed remorse during the hearing before pleading guilty to the charge of gross vehicular manslaughter.

“I know I make a terrible mistake. I know that I take away a life,” Ramirez said in halting English and barely audible tones. “Please forgive me. Have compassion for me. . . . I feel so sorry.”

Ramirez, who had no previous criminal record, was waiting for a chance to express his sorrow and even unsuccessfully sought to contact the Osornio family, said his attorney, Joseph A. Nappa. The attorney said Ramirez was ready to be taken into custody after the hearing.

Judge David O. Carter cited Ramirez’s clean record in imposing the six-year sentence. The punishment could have been as little as probation, but Carter said Ramirez menaced the public by driving drunk, particularly on Halloween night, when many children and parents were walking door-to-door.

“The act itself showed a disregard for the citizenry, the public and obviously the patrolman on duty that evening,” Carter said.

Ramirez will be eligible for parole in three years, according to his attorney.

Osornio’s relatives and former colleagues said they were satisfied with the sentence, though more than a dozen had exhorted the judge earlier for the toughest punishment possible.

“I’m sure he did the right thing given the parameters,” La Habra Police Capt. John Rees said. “Many of us would have liked to see more.”

Officer Kari Armstrong, a friend of Osornio’s who was first to arrive after the crash at the intersection of La Habra and Beach boulevards, said she hoped the case would draw attention to the dangers of drunk driving.

“I’m hoping this will send a message . . . that drunk driving is a senseless crime, whether (the victim is) a police officer or anyone else,” she said.

The hearing was dominated by grieving family members and friends who described Osornio as a quick-learning young officer looking forward with his fiancee to remodeling a house they had just bought.

The most powerful moment came when the victim’s father, Rafael Osornio, stood at the courtroom lectern, quaking and so overcome with grief that he could not speak. Instead, a family representative read a statement directly to Ramirez on behalf of Michael Osornio.

“My father no longer sleeps at night. He wakes to any sound. He has no rest since the day I died,” said the three-page statement, read by cousin Luis Garcia. “My mother’s physical and emotional health has deteriorated. She no longer finds any security and comfort at home.

“Our home is no longer a home, but an empty house.”

La Habra Police Chief Steven Staveley described the lingering emotional toll on his department and the city of La Habra, which had never seen one of its police officers killed in the line of duty. Staveley said several department employees have had to seek professional counseling to cope with the grief, and that residents still stop by to offer their sympathies.

“When one of its heroes is taken in such a senseless manner, the whole community is the victim,” Staveley said.


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