SAN DIEGO (CNS) - An ex-con and repeat DUI offender who was drunk when he drove on the shoulder of the freeway near Tierrasanta, striking and killing a tow-truck operator tending to a disabled trash truck, was sentenced Friday to 15 years to life in prison plus 10 years.
Michael Gilbert Gray, 50, pleaded guilty in August to second-degree murder and admitted two serious felony priors, including a domestic violence conviction for hitting his wife and rupturing her eardrum.
Charges of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and leaving the scene of the Feb. 23, 2017, collision that killed 55-year-old Fred Griffith were dismissed as part of the plea agreement.
Griffith's sister, Danelle Ragsdale, said in a letter to the court that her brother -- a single father to three boys -- was "needlessly ripped from all of us."
Ragsdale said Griffith and his three sons -- ages 15, 18, and 21 -- were "inseparable."
"He (Fred) worked hard for the boys so they would have a good life," the victim's sister said in the letter read in court by Deputy District Attorney Cally Bright. "Fred was a ship in the night who would help you find your way to safety."
Griffith's friend, Randall Resch, wrote in a letter that the victim was a "gentle giant" and one of the best heavy-duty tow-truck operators in San Diego County.
"Fred touched the hearts of everyone who knew him," his friend said. "To me, Fred died a hero's death."
Before he was sentenced, Gray apologized to the victim's family and said he took full responsibility for Griffith's death.
Witnesses testified during a preliminary hearing last year that they saw Gray's Ford Expedition swerve onto the shoulder of eastbound state Route 52 and narrowly miss a large disabled commercial trash truck before striking Griffith, who was standing outside his tow truck in front of the trash truck.
Off-duty sheriff's Detective Mark Palmer testified that he activated his lights and siren in his vehicle and followed Gray's SUV before pulling him over a short distance down the highway.
The defendant -- who had a half-empty bottle of vodka in his car -- was still showing signs of intoxication three hours after the crash, said Deputy District Attorney Cally Bright. Authorities said Gray's blood-alcohol content was .27 percent -- more than three times the legal limit -- at the time of the accident. Gray had DUIs in 1999, 2001 and 2013, Bright said.
Gray went to prison in 1987 for assault to commit rape and sexual battery convictions and was incarcerated again in 2007 after the domestic violence conviction, according to a probation report.