SAN DIEGO -- A man who stabbed two San Diego firefighters as they tried to render aid to an intoxicated person at a downtown trolley station was sentenced today to nearly 24 years in state prison.
Ryan Allen Jones, 35, was convicted last month of two counts each of attempted voluntary manslaughter, assault with a deadly weapon and battery for the attack last June 24.
In sentencing Jones, Judge Jeffrey Fraser refused to strike two prior "strikes" on the defendant's record: a 2002 conviction for robbery in which he was armed and a 2008 conviction for battery on a peace officer in Oakland in which the officer was hurt.
"I don't think you're a bad man," the judge told Jones, but he said the defendant had a very bad temper.
Unfortunately, the judge said, when a fire captain also known for his temper pushed Jones over a bench to try to get him to stand back, the defendant reacted with violence. Once Jones pulled out a knife, he intended to kill firefighters Benjamin Vernon and Alex Wallbrett, the judge said.
Deputy District Attorney Steven Schott said Jones has failed to remain law-abiding for the last 15 years.
"The defendant is a violent man who tried to take the lives of two firefighters," the prosecutor said.
Vernon, 38, was stabbed twice and suffered a punctured lung; Wallbrett was stabbed multiple times.
Deputy Public Defender Thomas Barr -- arguing for a 13-year sentence -- said Jones has demonstrated his ability to reform and "lead a law-abiding life."
Jones, in a statement, expressed his sorrow that people were hurt and said his sole purpose was to help the drunk and sick man.
"I acted out of fear," the defendant told the judge.
Vernon -- a firefighter for 10 years -- said the incident has changed his life.
"It absolutely changed (me) almost down to my core," Vernon told reporters. "How I function around patients, my sleep schedule has been different, I am struggling with PTSD. I do have a harder time helping people who need help. If there's a bystander nearby, I get a little more nervous. Yeah, he's changed me."
Vernon and Wallbrett were among several firefighters who responded to a late afternoon call of a sick and drunk man at the trolley station in the 500 block of Park Boulevard.
Schott said Jones refused orders to step away from the scene, then attacked two transit officers before stabbing the two firefighters.
Transit security officers ended the assault by pulling the 6-foot-3, 210-pound assailant off the victims and dousing him with pepper spray. The guards then held Jones until police arrived.