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Driver who fell asleep and fatally struck Caltrans worker gets six years in prison

A driver with a history of mental illness who fell asleep behind the wheel of his SUV, which then stuck and killed a Caltrans worker, was sentenced Friday to six years in prison.

Reginald Grigsby Jr., 32, pleaded guilty in March to gross vehicular manslaughter in the death of Leonardo Sandoval Peña, who had been repairing sprinklers in a roadway median in Escondido last year when he was fatally injured.

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Grigsby had been accused of driving under the influence of drugs, based on statements he made to police and paramedics at the time of the accident. But toxicology tests revealed the only drugs in his system were "low therapeutic levels" of the medications he had been prescribed, a prosecutor said at a Vista Superior Court hearing.

After hearing arguments from the lawyers and comments from the victim's family, Judge Michael Popkins sentenced Grigsby to the maximum term allowed by law. The judge said he was persuaded not only by the the fact that an innocent person was killed, but by Grigsby's criminal history.

"If he was a first-time offender, I think I would have looked at this a little differently," Popkins said.

Grigsby had a previous conviction for assault after he attacked and choked his mother into unconsciousness in 2009 at his parents' Fallbrook home. His father, Reginald Grigsby Sr., resorted to shooting his son twice in order to save his wife's life.

The shooting was ruled justified by the district attorney's office, which said the son had suffered from schizophrenia since he was a teenager. He also had beat up his father in 2004 and attacked his sister in 2008, authorities said. He spent a year in jail on the assault conviction and five years on probation.

Grigsby was arrested Sept. 14 after running over Peña. The driver had been headed south on Centre City Parkway in Escondido near Interstate 15 when he veered to the left and drove down the median. His Mitsubishi Montero hit Peña at what the prosecutor described as "freeway speed." He lost control of the vehicle, which rolled several times before coming to a rest.

Peña was killed instantly.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Aimee McLeod said in court that Grigsby told emergency workers that he fell asleep while driving, and witnesses described him as lethargic or "zoned out." She said Grigsby told investigators he had taken Klonopin, a drug used to control epileptic seizures, but none was found in his system.

"Mr. Grigsby ignored the warning signs," McLeod said in the courtroom, arguing that the defendant knew he had not slept in a couple of days and that he was not fit to drive. And she acknowledged his history of mental illness.

"This is a second offense that relates to his inability to properly medicate," the prosecutor said.

Grigsby apologized for what he had done to the victim and his family. "I'm truly sorry from the bottom of my heart," Grigsby said in the courtroom. "This was a terrible judgment call on my part. I own up to my mistake, and I pray that one day you can forgive me."

Littlefield writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune

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