In a courtroom filled with angry and tearful relatives, a judge on Friday sentenced a Santa Ana man to 15 years to life in prison for killing a 4-year-old boy and a 14-year-old girl in a drunk driving accident and then fleeing.
Fernando Q. Perez, 30, sat with his head bowed and his eyes filled with tears as relatives of the little boy he killed spoke bitterly of their loss at the hands of Perez, who had been convicted of drunk driving three times before the fatal crash in 1996.
“We are living a life spent without our children, and it’s full of pain and misery and a lot of anger too,” said Kristine Quiroga, mother of the boy, speaking for both victims’ families.
“He just left them there to die. That was my son, that was my daughter’s best friend, and he just left them there. That’s what pains me the most.”
Perez, who already was drunk and had gone out to buy more beer, crashed his car into one being driven by 14-year-old Sonia Ruiz at Flower Street and Wilshire Avenue in Santa Ana. The underage driver had taken her friend, Elina Quiroga, also 14, and the friend’s 4-year-old brother, Ruben, for a ride around the block. Sonia and Ruben died of their injuries.
Bystanders caught Perez after he tried to flee. He was driving with a suspended license, and his blood-alcohol level was .20%, more than twice the legal limit of .08%, according to police.
“The situation . . . is a great tragedy,” Superior Court Judge Richard F. Toohey said before imposing sentence. “The devil alcohol has certainly left its scars upon this situation.”
A jury convicted Perez of felony hit-and-run but deadlocked on the charge of murder. Rather than face a second trial, Perez pleaded guilty in December to two counts of second-degree murder and other charges in exchange for a lesser sentence. If Perez had gone to trial again and been found guilty, he could have received 35 years to life.
Earlier this month, he tried to change his plea, because he said he did not understand the consequences of his admission. But on Friday, Perez accepted the plea, explained to him clearly in court by Deputy Dist. Atty. Claudia Silbar, who prosecuted the case.
John Rodriguez, Ruben’s uncle, vowed to attend any parole hearings Perez might have after serving his minimum sentence.
“Myself and my family will be there,” he said. “Fifteen years, 20 years, 30 years is not going to be enough.”
A great aunt of Ruben’s also had harsh words. Madeline Macias blasted the legal system because a three-time drunk driver was on the road. And, addressing Perez, she said, “You’re nobody, you’re worse than a dog.”
Elina Quiroga, who suffered minor injuries in the crash, was in court Friday for the sentencing but did not speak. She later stood in the courthouse hallway in tears but was unable to speak about the crash that killed her little brother and best friend.
The families of the two victims live next door to each other and remain close. Kristine Quiroga spoke for both families because, she said, the family of Sonia Ruiz is unable to cope with any more legal proceedings.
“They can’t handle it,” she said. “They are in a lot of depression now. It’s too much to handle.”
Perez’s attorney, James H. Cesena, said his client’s family, many of whom were in court Friday, is suffering too.
“He’s always accepted the responsibility but believed it was a manslaughter [case] at worst,” Cesena said.
But Silbar said the defendant got what he deserved.
“I think the result is just, under the circumstances,” she said. “It’s a final result, too, not one that can be appealed or squabbled about at a later date.”
Greg Hernandez can be reached at (714) 564-1037 or by e-mail at Greg.Hernandez@latimes.com