LAS VEGAS, N.M. (AP) — A man who was suspected of driving under the influence has been sentenced to the maximum nine years in prison for the death of a Colorado couple’s newborn after an accident in northern New Mexico.
The baby died almost immediately after being delivered by Caesarean section at a hospital after the June 2012 crash on Interstate 25 near Rowe.
Aileen and Zach Smith of Colorado Springs were driving to California for a baby shower when a car veered in front of their SUV, causing the crash.
District Judge Gerald Baca on Wednesday sentenced Ramon Hernandez of Santa Fe to consecutive sentences of six years for vehicular homicide and three years for great bodily harm.
Baca rejected defense attorney Ben Mondragon’s request for leniency.
“I can’t imagine anything more serious in nature or violent in nature than the death of an individual,” Baca said.
Aileen Smith told Baca it was agonizing to know her son died of massive head trauma, and that she wasn’t able to do anything to protect him.
“There’s a hole in my heart … ,” she said.
The Smiths also told Baca that the crash left them with debt that has put them on the brink of financial ruin.
Hernandez could have faced a stiffer sentence, but jurors acquitted him of DWI. Police did not test him for alcohol immediately after the crash because he denied being the driver.
“It was not my fault,” Hernandez, an immigrant from Guatemala, told Baca through an interpreter. “I am very sorry about Mrs. Smith’s baby, but my life also changed a great deal.”
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has used the case for push for stronger DWI laws.
Although Hernandez wasn’t convicted of driving drunk, the Smiths referred to his four prior DWI convictions.
“This crime could have been prevented,” Aileen Smith said. “This is no accident. This is a lifestyle choice.”