BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The father of a boy who suffered serious injuries in a hit-and-run collision outside Earl Warren Junior High implored a judge to reject an “open plea” made by the driver, and instead send the case to trial.

“We’re here because the defendant ran over my son,” the father said at Tuesday’s sentencing hearing for Jeffrey Tracy. He said a year in jail wasn’t enough punishment.

But Judge Michael G. Bush said the prosecution couldn’t prove Tracy was responsible for the Oct. 22, 2021, collision on Mountain Vista Drive. Tracy left the scene and will be punished for that, Bush said, but he didn’t find a prison term appropriate.

A police investigation determined the boy caused the crash by crossing outside a crosswalk.

The judge noted the boy, 12 at the time, received immediate medical aid from a nurse and others; Tracy stopping wouldn’t have resulted in more prompt treatment.

Jeffrey Tracy becomes emotional while listening to remarks at his sentencing hearing.

Bush sentenced Tracy to a year in jail and two years’ probation and ordered him immediately taken into custody. Tracy spent much of the hearing with his hands over his face, at times wiping his eyes.

Tracy, 38, last month made the open plea — pleading no contest to both counts of felony hit and run filed against him — in the hope the court would give him lesser punishment than what the prosecution sought. Bush indicated Tracy would get the jail term at the time of the plea.

The collision

Police arrested Tracy after video footage and damage to an SUV linked him to the incident. A school bus driver told police the driver of a Ford Flex left the scene.

The boy suffered facial fractures, a lacerated liver, collapsed lung, bruising to his chest and other injuries and was flown to Valley Children’s Hospital in Madera. Months of recovery followed, the father said, and his son may experience related issues for years to come.

At 3 p.m. the day after the crash, a District Attorney’s office investigator went to the school and took down the license plate numbers of every Ford Flex that arrived. The investigator noticed one parked about a half-mile away as its driver waited to pick up a student, according to a court filing. The investigator recorded its license plate.

The next day, the investigator saw the same Ford Flex parked the same distance from the school and followed the vehicle; it had damage to its driver’s side mirror.

A records check revealed the registered owner was Tracy’s wife, the filing says. Tracy matched the description of the man who drove the Ford Flex the day of the crash, and charges were filed on Nov. 23, 2021.

Courtroom comments

Any “normal, law-abiding citizen” would have stopped, rendered aid and called 911, the father told the court before sentencing. But Tracy did the opposite — he fled.

The father acknowledged there is no evidence Tracy was impaired, but asked “what human being leaves after striking a child with their vehicle if they have nothing to be afraid of?”

Tracy has a DUI conviction from 2005.

Although Tracy is being sentenced to a year in jail, he won’t serve anywhere close to the full term, the father said. He said he respects the court, but asked Bush what message he’s sending by imposing a short sentence for someone who hits a young boy and leaves.

“Why are we rewarding this defendant for doing the wrong thing?” he asked.

Prosecutor Brandon Stallings also asked the judge to reconsider and reject the plea, arguing Tracy deserved heavier punishment.

In response, David Faulkner, Tracy’s attorney, said he sympathizes with the child and his family, and what they’ve been through. Nevertheless, Faulkner said, Tracy, while responsible for leaving the scene, was not to blame for the crash itself.

“Nothing that my client could have done differently would have avoided any of the injuries that the child suffered,” Faulkner said. “I think that’s clear from all the evidence the video shows. And (the victim) is a young child, and children make bad decisions sometimes that have devastating effects, and that’s extremely unfortunate and tragic.”

Cameras inside a school bus captured the crash. They show the boy dash behind the bus just before he’s hit by the SUV.

The case could have resolved much earlier if Tracy had received plea offers from the prosecution consistent with his culpability, Faulkner said, instead of attempting to put him in prison.

Bush said he feels pain for the boy’s family and acknowledged they’re upset with him. But he said he looks at cases where a defendant is to blame for a crash and leaves the scene differently from those where they’re not responsible — and Tracy wasn’t responsible.

No one, however, disputed Tracy left the scene.

“And for that he will be punished,” Bush said.