One moment, Alfonso Morillo III was asleep in the back seat of his friend’s Nissan on the way back from Disneyland. Two weeks later, he awoke from a coma in a hospital.
Morillo, now 23, and six others were injured Feb. 27, 2016, when a man who was street racing lost control of his Dodge Challenger and slammed into a UPS truck. The truck flipped, hitting the center divider of the 5 Freeway in Commerce and landing on the Nissan that Morillo and three of his friends were in, shearing off the roof.
The multi-vehicle crash killed the UPS driver, Scott Treadway, 52. Two of Morillo’s friends — Michelle Littlefield, 19, and Brian Lewandowski, 18, were also killed. Four others — including Morillo — were seriously injured.
On Friday, the driver, Dealio Lockhart, 38, was sentenced to 22 years and four months in prison as part of a plea deal. During the sentencing, victims spoke of the immeasurable tragedy of the crash and how their lives will never be the same.
“I kept asking myself why … why did this happen to us?” Morillo told a judge in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom. After Morillo woke, he found out that two of his best friends had been killed that night.
Morillo suffered a fractured neck, a ruptured spleen and a broken arm. He had to wear a neck brace for months.
Another friend, the driver of the Nissan, remains in a coma.
Investigators learned that the street race originated on the 101 Freeway in Hollywood. Lockhart was racing the driver of a Dodge Charger at speeds over 120 mph.
The driver of the Charger has never been identified, but the case is still open, Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Blake said. Lockhart was originally charged with three counts of second-degree murder, but he pleaded guilty last month to three counts of vehicular manslaughter, four counts of engaging in a speed contest and 11 counts of assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury.
After the crash, the Los Angeles Police Department and the California Highway Patrol formed a task force to tackle the problem of illicit racing.
Last year, The Times found that from 2000 to 2017, at least 179 people were killed in L.A. County in accidents in which street racing was suspected. Since 2009, authorities have made arrests in more than half the cases in which street racing was suspected in a fatal crash. But those rarely have led to significant jail time, according to a Times analysis of 45 accidents that led to 20 prosecutions.
In 15 of those, the defendants were sentenced to less than five years in jail. In one case, a driver involved in a crash that killed a teacher was sentenced to probation. Only three prosecutions saw sentences of more than 10 years.
Those findings underscore the difficulty of investigating and prosecuting accidents involving street racing, law enforcement authorities said. It is hard to prove the intent required for a murder charge, and many defendants have no previous criminal history.
Lockhart had no previous criminal record, which contributed to talks of a deal, Blake said.
After the Commerce crash, Rose Chadwick founded a group that tries to discourage street racing and has spoken to victims and more than a hundred people about the dangers. She told the judge that stiffer laws are needed.
“The mentality on the streets is, ‘So what?’” she said.
Littlefield and Lewandowski were college students. Littlefield’s parents brought to the sentencing posters of their only child as a baby and as a smiling teenager.
Her father, Willy Littlefield, addressed Lockhart: “That’s my baby,” he said. “She’s dead.”
Littlefield denounced street racing and detailed the aftermath of that night.
“We are left to suffer for the rest of our lives,” he said.
The family of Lewandowski, the son of a former L.A. County sheriff’s homicide lieutenant, prepared a statement read by Blake.
“There isn’t a minute that goes by where we haven’t thought of Brian. To try and put into words what the loss of Brian means to our family would bankrupt the languages of the world. The pain, at times, is unbearable,” Blake read.
Toward the end of the hearing, Lockhart addressed the victims. He stood from the corner of the courtroom, wearing a white jail shirt and blue pants.
Lockhart apologized for his “selfish” actions, saying the only reason he raced that night was because he “wanted to win.” He told the court that his recklessness changed lives and that he accepted full responsibility.