A motorist who drove the wrong way on Interstate 15 near Mira Mesa while drunk, causing an early morning head-on crash that killed two of five family members in the other car, was sentenced Monday to 13 years and eight months in state prison.
Shane Gerald McDonald, 22, pleaded guilty in April to gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and DUI causing great bodily injury.
Authorities said Rodolfo de la Torre, 55, and Teresa Esparza Hernandez, 84, both of Escondido, were killed when a black Audi driven by McDonald slammed into their Honda sedan at about 3 a.m. on May 2, 2015, south of Mercy Road.
De la Torre was driving south in an I-15 express lane when the Audi, heading north in their lane, hit the Honda head-on, according to the California Highway Patrol. Three other family members in the back seat of the Honda suffered major injuries.
The victims were on their way to the Tijuana airport to attend a wedding in Mexico.
"The loss is immeasurable," said Teresa Hernandez's stepdaughter, Monica Arrizon. Being told that two family members were dead was the "hardest thing I ever had to live through," Arrizon said.
Arrizon said the family's faith helped them get through the loss of two loved ones.
"There are no winners in this," she said. "The joy in life is never the same."
Arrizon urged McDonald to make better choices once he's released back into society.
"You got a second chance by being able to walk away from your car that night," Arrizon told the defendant.
McDonald apologized to the victims' family for the pain he caused.
"This is something I can't forgive myself for," McDonald said. "No family should ever go through what you all went through."
McDonald said he hopes to help with drunk driving prevention once he gets out of prison.
McDonald's attorney, Cole Casey, said his client entered the express lane on a new ramp that he was not familiar with and drove the wrong way the night of the accident.
Casey said McDonald is from Guam, where freeways and on-ramps don't exist.
Deputy District Attorney Cally Bright said McDonald admitted to a CHP officer at the hospital that he had too much to drink that night. The defendant's blood-alcohol level was measured at .14 percent an hour after the crash.
Bright said the collision occurred at freeway speed and the defendant's car did not leave any brake marks.
Gavin Loy testified at a preliminary hearing last year that he was driving southbound on I-15 on his way to work when he saw McDonald's Audi going the wrong way and crash into the victims' car.
"It seemed head-on, and it was horrific," Loy testified.
Loy said McDonald got out of his car and "smelled like alcohol and wanted to get away," but Loy and another witness told him to sit down.
McDonald told officers that he had been to a party in the Del Cerro area the night before, where he had "more than three beers and two shots of vodka," according to court testimony.
"This is a heart-wrenching tragedy," Superior Court Judge Kenneth So said Monday. So told McDonald he had "disrupted" and in many ways "crushed" the lives of the victims' family.