SAN DIEGO - A Phoenix woman who was drunk when she drove the wrong way on a freeway offramp and caused a chain-reaction accident that killed a taxi driver near Old Town was sentenced Friday to 17 years and eight months in state prison.
Amy Marie St. John, 44, pleaded guilty in November to gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and DUI causing injury.
Superior Court Judge Louis Hanoian said the case was a tragedy for both the victim's and defendant's families.
"There isn't any way that I can fix anything," said Judge Louis Hanoian.
He noted that St. John, who had a prior DUI from Arizona, had been on notice not to mix alcohol and drugs. Hanoian said that because of the defendant's actions, taxi driver Anteneh Minassie was dead and another man was seriously injured.
"That's hard to live with," the judge said, noting St. John was not a "monster."
"She did not intend to drive onto the freeway and kill somebody," the judge added.
Minassie's widow, Sara Stizazu, told the court, "My 5-year-old son said to me, 'Mom, am I not too young to not have a dad? I wish dad was alive - at least until I finish kindergarten."
The Minassie children are now 4, 6 and 8 years old.
Stizazu also told the defendant, "I want you to know I do forgive you."
Deputy District Attorney Lucy Yturralde said at an earlier hearing that St. John had a blood-alcohol level of 0.27 percent -- more than three times the legal limit -- when she drove the wrong way on the Washington Street offramp, struck Minassie's cab on Interstate 5, then kept going.
Yturralde said Minassie -- a married father of three -- got out of his taxi and was hit by his own car when another motorist rear-ended it. The victim was believed to be dead when other motorists ran over him, the prosecutor said.
In court Friday, St. John said she prays for the victim and his family every night.
"He did save my life," the defendant said, noting that Minassie got out of his cab and was trying to help her when he was struck.
The defendant flew into San Diego on April 18, 2014, rented a car and checked into a motel. St. John then went drinking at a Midway area bar and strip club, leaving at 2 a.m, Yturralde said.
Two cabbies testified that they saw the defendant's car crash into Minassie's taxi. One of the drivers followed the defendant to a downtown hotel, where she was arrested.