CHULA VISTA, Calif. - A Chula Vista woman who crashed a minivan into Otay Reservoir while drunk, killing her 5-year-old daughter and another child, was sentenced Friday to eight years in prison.
Arlene Anna Hernandez, 23, pleaded guilty in March to charges of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and DUI. She could have received up to 12 years in prison.
Just minutes before her sentence was read aloud, Hernandez issued a tearful public apology.
"I'm so sorry for all the pain that I've caused you," Hernandez said to the family of 5-year-old Guiliana Figueroa. "I'm so sorry that I took Guiliana away from you. I take full responsibility for the death of my daughter, Lesette (Silva), and the death of Guiliana because they will never see another day."
Defense attorney Jonathan Jordan argued that the eight-year term was appropriate given the fact that Hernandez had no prior record.
Deputy District Attorney Mary Loeb argued that the defendant deserved the aggravated term of 12 years, saying a day of drinking and driving culminated at 6 p.m. with her car crashing into the water.
All parties agreed that no amount of time in custody for Hernandez could bring the victims back.
"This is a particularly tragic case," said South Bay Judge Theodore Weathers, noting the victims couldn't get their seat belts off once the car became submerged in the water.
Authorities said Hernandez lost control of her 2005 Kia Sedona on eastbound Otay Lakes Road last Aug. 5. The vehicle tumbled down an embankment near Wueste Road, overturned, landed on its roof in the water and sank, according to the California Highway Patrol.
Hernandez and her front seat passenger, Eric Figueroa, got out, but Figueroa's daughter, Guiliana, and the defendant's daughter, Lesette, were not pulled out of the vehicle until several area residents and Border Patrol agents arrived. The children were airlifted to Rady Children's Hospital, where they were declared dead.
"I am standing here before you, before all of you today as a heartbroken mother attempting to get proper justice for my child, my only child, Guiliana, whose life was taken from her at the age of 5 by the hands of a woman's cautious disregard while intoxicated for another life," said Guiliana's mother, Natasha Sierra.
Guiliana's mother also talked about some of the saddest moments following her daughter's death, including choosing to prep Guiliana for her funeral instead of the funeral home, and the first time she saw her daughter following the crash.
"Telling her, 'Please wake up, please wake up, mommy's here.' I placed my head on her chest in the desperate hopes of hearing her heartbeat. It didn't happen," said Sierra.
Sierra told Hernandez, "I would have died myself trying to save my child."
The mother called the defendant "careless and selfish," a person "who couldn't go a day without a drink."
Hernandez's mother, Anna Nava, also spoke out, taking responsibility for her daughter acting the way she did.
"Due to the fact that both her mother and father are both alcoholics, she became one of us," said Nava.
CHP Officer Brad Clinkscales testified at a preliminary hearing in November that Figueroa told him he met Hernandez a few months earlier and their daughters played together.
On the day of the crash, Hernandez and Figueroa arranged a "play date" with their girls and met at a Ralphs grocery store, Clinkscales said.
Figueroa bought a six-pack of beer, and Hernandez drove them to a park, where they had about three beers each, the officer said Figueroa told him.
Hernandez saw some skydivers and said she wanted to give her daughter an up-close look, so they drove toward the area, Clinkscales said Figueroa told him.
Figueroa said he was blindfolded during the drive because Hernandez had a "surprise." He said he didn't know anything was wrong until he heard yelling and minivan careened out of control.
Hernandez's blood-alcohol level was measured at 0.13 percent after the crash, the officer said.
The judge said Hernandez will serve 85 percent of her eight-year state prison sentence in county jail due to time served. She was also ordered to pay $5,000 in restitution.
Hernandez will be transferred to state prison within a few days.
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