It’s hard to call something breaking news when it happened over a month ago.
But word is just coming out that Robert Sam Sanchez changed his plea to no contest at pre-hearing conference on June 14th and was sentenced to 4 years in state prison for the death of Rod Armas in Malibu last year.
According to cyclist and attorney Dj Wheels, Sanchez pleaded no contest to hit-and-run with injury, as well as an additional count of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence. As part of the plea deal, charges of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and DUI with injury were dismissed.
As you may recall, Rod Armas and his son Christian were riding on the shoulder of PCH in Malibu as they neared the end of the L.A. Wheelmen’s annual Grand Tour Double Century on the night of June 27, 2009. They only had about 10 miles left in their ride when they were struck by a Dodge Ram pickup driven by Sanchez, a records clerk for the City of Malibu, who fled the scene.
The pickup was discovered abandoned about a mile further down the road, and Sanchez was arrested after being found hiding nearby. His blood alcohol level still measured .05 over five hours after Armas was left to die in the road.
Wheels speculates that the delay in taking a blood sample may have led to the decision to drop the alcohol charges, since there may have been a problem proving that he was intoxicated at the time of the collision.
Sanchez was sentenced to four years for each count, to be served concurrently. As a result, he will serve a maximum of fours years; however, in all likelihood, the actual time he spends behind bars will be significantly less.
According to Wheels, this was a good outcome under the circumstances, and Sanchez was not let off easy. He was sentenced to the maximum term for felony hit-and-run, and a mid-term sentence for manslaughter, with a finding that alcohol was involved.
The next step is a Restitution Hearing scheduled for July 30th, after which Sanchez will be required to surrender to authorities to begin his sentence.
Of course, the question is why the conviction received coverage in the news; even the local press had no idea a deal had been reached and a sentence imposed. Dj Wheels had a case in another courthouse on the day of the pre-hearing conference, and only learned about the conviction when he tried to find out why yesterday’s scheduled pretrial hearing didn’t take place.
Maybe they just didn’t want us to know until Sanchez was safely behind bars.
Update: This absolutely chilling comment appeared on the Bike Forums thread about Rod Armas this morning, from a rider who rolled up on the scene just minutes after Rod and Christian were hit.
I seriously want to ride on Sacramento and protest until the Legislature changes DUI crashes that end in some one’s death to homicide/murder 2. Drinking and driving is NOT an accident. Taking someone’s life while doing so is not an accident. It is COMPLETELY preventable. I wish we could hang these miscreants. No mercy. And I’m not sorry for it.
MADD and other such organizations have been lobbying for better DUI enforcement and education for years. I joined SADD in high school, some twenty years ago, and we were talking about the same things then. Admittedly, there has been progress: the penalties for drunk driving have gotten more severe over time, and most recently, as of July 1, convicted first-time DUI offenders in L.A. county will have an interlock device installed for five months, or twelve months if an injury was involved. But we are still behind other rich countries, where legal levels are as low as 0.02 (Sweden), and first-time penalties can mean immediate loss of license for a year (U.K.). There’s no easy solution, however, as even increased penalties don’t solve the problem completely.
Wow, I had no idea the legal limit was so low elsewhere! And I completely agree with it! We have to keep lobbying for it here. I’m not a mother, but I’m thinking about joining MADD.
As it happens, Wikipedia has a great comparative list:
Some countries have a zero-BAC policy, although one wonders whether that’s even enforceable, when cough syrup, vanilla extract, and mouthwashes are loaded with the stuff.
[…] Driver Sentenced to four years for hit and run vehicular manslaughter in Malibu (Biking In L.A.) […]
[…] one day after we found out that Robert Sam Sanchez was sentenced to 4 years for the drunken hit-and-run death of Rod Armas, the 18-year old intoxicated driver who fled the […]
The problem with increasing the penalty for a DUI is that at some point the punishment for a DUI will exceed that for a hit and run. This means that it is in the driver’s best interest to leave the scene and hope that they sober up before getting caught for the hit and run. This denies immediate help to the victim, help that could be critically important to their survival.
So I am all for jailing those that drink and drive, but we have to be careful that leaving the victim to die alone in the street does not become the best option for the driver.
I say increase the penalties on both DUIs and hit and runs, with the penalty for a hit and run being much more severe.
One of my friends used to joke that red painted curbs were always-available parking for the rich … which makes me think of one of the more unusual ideas out of a few European countries: traffic fines proportionate to net worth or income. You’ll read of extraordinary fines once in awhile, like the recent $290,000 speeding ticket for this Swiss multi-millionaire: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6063XO20100107
A small comparative survey:
[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by LACM and jesse r., Iain. Iain said: RT @LosAngelesCM: Driver who killed a Malibu bicyclist a year a ago in a hit-n-run while intoxicated, sentenced to 4 years in prison. http://alturl.com/3f4hp […]
I think the approach we need to take is to remind everyone driving is a privilege not a right, and go after the driving privileges of the reckless, and in the case of hit and run, also the heartless and cowardly. I want to see in extreme cases, people banned from driving for life, their car impounded and with severe penalties if found to be driving unlicensed. I think in some cases jail time is appropriate, especially if deliberate intent is at play, but most of all I want reckless drivers off the road.
Sometimes reckless drivers have no other past history of crime or violence outside of their car, so are less of a threat to all society in general like other criminals. They are only truly dangerous once put behind the wheel controlling a multi-ton vehicle at fast speed. So lets get these people out of cars.
Additionally, losing ones driving privilege should come with class instruction on living car free. A lot of us are already living car free or car-lite by choice, but someone who never thought to fathom the idea, they easily lapse into illegally driving without a license when they don’t understand alternatives.
Fines that hurt might also be a start:
Two Malibu sites have picked up the story now.
Malibu Surfside New
I notice neither of them gave you credit for breaking the story, though.
Let me start by saying that the loss of the Armas family is sincerely saddening and my sympathies go out to them. As the details of this case appear to be cleverly biased towards the victims (understandably)it is easy to cast judgment on the perpetrator. The papers all suggest he was apprehended “hiding in the bushes” when in fact he surrendered himself to the guard tower on the beach. And this “race” that even the local sheriffs department was unaware of, was not advertised and properly administered nor precautions made to indicate there were bicyclists at 1:30 am. These points were not mentioned in any articles I saw. If these two people were the last riders, they should have been escorted by a tail car indicating “End of race.” Many factors contributed to this tragedy and as far as alcohol levels in the system, these “levels” are predetermined and have been established for a reason. You can have elevated alcohol levels from taking Nyquil, should you be pulled over and samples taken is it justified to accuse you of drunk driving? Some hypocrites might say yes, but deep down we know we’ve ALL been there in some aspect or other. Or if you fall asleep at the wheel becasue you are tired and cause an accidient, and you dont realize what just happened because your eyes were closed, and you continue drifting less then a mile down the road, before you stop and panic and get out of your car. And before you can even put it all together you’re in flight mode. Do you know that when the the perpetrator was finally advised of what exactly happened out there he fell to his knees and asked for a bullet? This young man did have a serious lack of judgement that night, she should have gone back to the scene. And he is being punished for that now. A young man with absolutely no priors, educated, never been in trouble in his life, is now sentenced to co habitate with the most dangerous, violent, mentally unstable people you can imagine. And I hope this brings comfort to all the people who think he should be hung. Who knows…locked up with those types of people, it can in fact happen. And I pray that all those “ill-will”ers out there NEVER have to experience the other end of this type of tragedy becasue what goes around…comes around.
Brenda, as I’ve written before, this incident is doubly tragic because it destroyed two families. However, absolving a drunk driver for responsibility for his actions under any conditions is reprehensible. Sanchez willingly got behind the wheel in an impaired condition, and killed another human being as a result.
Simply put, if you’ve been drinking, don’t drive. If you’ve taken medication that impairs your judgment or coordination, don’t drive. If you’re too tired to stay awake behind the wheel, don’t drive. If you need to text or talk on the phone, pull over until you’re finished. In other words, don’t operate a motor vehicle unless you are able to do it safely.
I do feel sorry for Sanchez and his family. But I have a lot more sympathy for the family that lost a husband and father, and for the two victims he struck down.
@Brenda, Drivers don’t get a free pass to kill, no matter their intention. 40,000 Americans die on the road most years, far more loss than any war we wage, and far more than any murders with guns or knives. In most of these crashes there was no motive or intent to harm, but the outcome is still the same, piles of dead and gravely injured, nearly all preventable, and the biggest cause of death for our youth.
Personally I am much more favor in targeting striping driving privileges than jail time, which is one of the things the Life Before License campaign Bikeside is putting together will seek to do, and I’m involved in. Most killer drivers are otherwise in their life not much threat to society, the problem is when they are behind the wheel. So lets get them out of the drivers seat, and in the most serious cases, revoke driving for life.