BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — A drunken driver who barreled down Highway 99 at speeds greater than 90 mph when he slammed into the back of a Jeep, killing a woman and her 5-year-old son, was sentenced Wednesday to 15 years to life in prison, plus seven years.
Superior Court Judge Brian M. McNamara imposed the sentence against 24-year-old Daniel Mejia for Mejia’s convictions earlier this year on two counts of second-degree murder, two counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and two charges of DUI causing injury.
Mejia wore a white face mask in court and did not appear to show any reaction as McNamara imposed the sentence.
Before sentencing, prosecutor Michelle Domino argued for a sentence of 30 years to life since Mejia was found guilty of two counts of second-degree murder, each of which carries a prison term of 15 years to life that could be sentenced consecutively.
Domino said the report submitted by the probation department indicated Mejia still had not accepted responsibility for his actions. He told a probation officer he was only “hung over” when the crash occurred that killed 21-year-old Karla Mendoza and 5-year-old Axel Rodriguez.
Testing by the Kern Regional Crime Lab showed Mejia’s blood-alcohol content was 0.25 percent, more than three times the state legal limit at which a person is considered impaired.
“Certainly the crimes that he committed deserve the maximum sentence,” Domino told the court. “Both of their lives are just as valuable and you don’t get a “two for one” in a case like this.”
Christopher Martens, Mejia’s attorney, said he agreed with the probation report and noted Mejia’s statements in it showed he appeared to be remorseful and that he had expressed a hope the victims’ family could one day forgive him.
McNamara decided to have the 15-year sentences run concurrently, and sentenced Mejia to an additional seven years for his conviction on a charge filed in connection with the injuries suffered by a young girl who was also inside the Jeep.
Witnesses reported Mejia, of Redlands, swerved and cut off other motorists on Nov. 24, 2017, as he sped along the highway. His pickup plowed into the back of a Jeep that had stopped in the center median just north of Taft Highway because of a flat tire.
Mendoza and Rodriguez, of Half Moon Bay, were in the Jeep, which rolled and caught fire. Axel died at the scene and Mendoza died the next day.
Axel’s then-3-year-old sister, Zoey Mendoza, suffered serious injuries including a broken hip. The Jeep’s driver, Juan Rodriguez Garcia, was uninjured because he was outside the Jeep changing the tire when the crash happened.
During Wednesday’s hearing, seven letters were read to the court from relatives and friends of the victims, plus a letter from Garcia.
In it, he said he still has trouble wrapping his head around the fact that his wife and son are gone and he’ll never see them again. Everywhere he goes, he sees something that reminds him of his family, he told the court.
Garcia said he, his wife and children had been having the best time of their lives the months before the crash. Every day when he arrived home from work, Axel would run to him and they would play together as Mendoza prepared dinner.
“They made me a better person in life,” Garcia said of his wife and son.
He said Zoey is sad when she’s dropped off at school because she notices how most of the other children are taken to school by their mother. Garcia said she lives in fear of being separated from him, of losing him like she lost her mother.
“I can’t understand why these things happened to me,” Garcia said.