BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Calling it one of the most difficult sentencing decisions in his 15 years on the bench, Judge Charles R. Brehmer weighed what he deemed genuine remorse from a military veteran who drove drunk and hit two bicyclists, and how the crime has forever changed the victims’ lives.
In the end, acknowledging his decision will make neither side happy, Brehmer on Thursday sentenced Joshua Ramage to six years and four months in prison, rejecting a defense request for probation and imposing a lesser term than the decade behind bars sought by the prosecution.
Ramage, 43, dropped his head. He then again looked at the judge as Brehmer told him he’s not a bad person and has made positive changes in his life, but he must face the consequences of his actions.
The crash happened the night of May 1, 2021. Ramage drove a Ford Excursion west in the slow lane of Stockdale Highway and collided with bicyclists Douglas Allmon and Alissa (Lisa) Brown. He kept driving, took a right onto Rio Bravo Drive and drove around the neighborhood then was pulled over after getting back onto Stockdale Highway traveling west — away from the crash.
At trial, Ramage testified he was trying to find a way back to the crash scene. The prosecution argued he was trying to get away.
Brown remains in a “persistent vegetative state” as a result of brain trauma, Deputy District Attorney Brandon Stallings said. She also suffered broken ribs, a collapsed lung, a broken pelvis and skull fracture.
Allmon, her boyfriend, suffered a lacerated spleen, broken ribs and a cut to his scalp.
Breath tests indicated Ramage’s blood-alcohol content was 0.25%, more than three times the legal limit of 0.08%. Ramage testified he’d been drinking throughout the day but felt he could safely operate a motor vehicle.
He has two prior drunken driving convictions.
In May, a jury convicted him drunken driving and hit-and-run resulting in permanent serious injury.
PTSD or bad decision?
Deputy Public Defender Thomas J. Pope had asked Ramage be sentenced to probation and allowed entry to the local Veterans Justice Program, where he’d receive counseling and other services for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
Given an opportunity to address the court before sentencing, Ramage apologized.
“It has broken my heart from the day it happened,” he said. “I carry it every day.”
The person he was before the crash “is dead and gone,” Ramage said. He said he stopped drinking, strives to continue improving and hopes to help others struggling with alcohol and “complete unhappiness.”
“Whatever you sentence me with, your honor, I will do it to the best of my ability, and I will praise God through all of it,” he said.
In response, Stallings noted Ramage’s prior crimes involving alcohol — in addition to the DUIs, he was convicted in 2003 of public intoxication — and told the court Ramage had multiple opportunities to recognize he had a problem and change his ways. Instead, Stallings said, Ramage continued on a path that left two people seriously injured, one permanently.
And even then, instead of remaining at the scene and trying to help, “he turned his back on them” and drove away, Stallings said.
Brehmer said he had no doubt Ramage has PTSD — but he found it played no role in his actions the day of the crash. He referred to a report from a clinical psychologist who examined Ramage and wrote, “Relative to his offense behaviors, the defendant denied he was experiencing PTSD immediately before his offense.”
In fact, Ramage told the psychologist he hadn’t experienced PTSD symptoms for three to four years before the crash. Only after the incident did the symptoms return.
The judge said it’s his hope — and he’s sure it’s the hope of everyone in the courtroom — that Brown makes a miraculous recovery. He said he also hopes Ramage’s sincere expressions of remorse provide some sense of peace as everyone does their best to move forward.
Years ago, Brehmer said, he read a book called “Forgive and Forget.” It dealt with moving past anger when you’ve been wronged.
He said he liked the first part — there is grace in forgiveness — but he doesn’t think it’s necessary to forget.