The man responsible for causing a chain reaction crash that killed two people was sentenced Tuesday to eight years in state prison.
Douglas Scott Dir, 39, pleaded guilty Jan. 3 in Madera Superior Court to two counts of gross vehicular manslaughter.
Joseph Paul Rodriguez, 20, and Tondi Marie Mason, 24, died as a result of the Jan. 27, 2005, crash on State Route 99.
Dir was driving 70 mph north in the southbound lanes in dense fog and triggered a chain reaction that resulted in six cars and two big rigs becoming tangled on the highway.
Four hours after the crash, Dir's blood alcohol level registered .11, according to court reports. Dir suffered major injuries and his left leg was amputated because of those injuries.
Judge Jennifer Detjen said the impact of Dir's actions caused damages "widespread, physical, emotional and economical."
Rodriguez's family members spoke to the court Tuesday, telling Detjen that their lives will never be the same without "Joey."
Ana Rieping, Rodriguez's sister, said he had just graduated from Heald College, and applied for a position with the county's IT department.
"We were really excited about where his life was heading," Rieping said. "He was an integral part of my family. My boys loved their uncle Joey."
She said Rodriguez was often likened to Peter Pan by her children, because "he was never going to grow up, he loved playing with my boys."
"Not a day goes by they don't say, 'I miss Joey,'" Rieping said. "It hurts me to (deal) with things like that. They miss him. I miss him. This has created a void."
Dir, sitting in a wheelchair at the council table, wiped tears from his eyes while Rieping spoke.
Michelle Irving, Rodriguez's other sister, choked back tears while she spoke to the court.
"Joseph was a beautiful person," she said. "It's a tragedy that he was taken from us at a very early age."
She asked for stiffer laws and penalties for drunken drivers.
"It's hard to explain ... the significance of a drunk driving accident," she said. "Our lives have forever been changed."
Victims' Advocate Andi Melendez answered questions about the other victim, Mason, whose family refused to come to the sentencing.
Melendez explained that the family was "very angry" with the proceedings, and elicited to have nothing to do with them.
Administrators and students from Heald College joined together and held a fundraiser to help defray costs of Rodriguez's burial, Irving said.
Rieping said Rodriguez was an active member of the family's church, where he sang in the choir and was involved in the youth program.
"He's in our hearts," Rieping said. "He will always live in our hearts."
She said while she "honestly believes (Dir) is remorseful, God calls us to forgive. Part of me feels like I have forgiven, but (Dir) needs to serve his time."
She also expressed concern for Dir's family and children.
"What is justice for a life? Two lives, in this case," Rieping said. "I'm glad he's going to be serving time."
Dir was considered for probation. But Probation Officer Richard Hansen, who examined the case and wrote the recommendation to the court, said that while Dir lacked a prior criminal conviction, he would not recommend the mitigated term.
Hansen's report pointed out that these were two separate victims in two separate cars, and Dir should be punished for each death.
The report cited "widespread damage ... to six people" who were injured in the crash, and because of the extent of the damage the best example the Dir could set was to pay a price for his actions.
Dir was sentenced to six years for the death of Rodriguez, and two years for the death of Mason. Detjen set the sentences to be served consecutively, placing Dir in state prison for eight years.
Dir received credit for 609 days served and good time credit.