A verdict is in for a case that truly embodies our signature issue, ‘Kern’s Sober Reality.’ It’s a case we’ve followed from the start, a tragedy that destroyed so many lives. This case is simply beyond tragic.
But it stands out for other reasons. First, it’s one of the first fatal DUI cases involving marijuana prosecuted in Kern.
Second, it exposed what some call a “loophole” in California’s manslaughter laws. At the time Gabriella Soto was killed by a driver under the influence, she was seven months pregnant.
Her baby girl was named Alba, but because Alba hadn’t been born yet, under California manslaughter laws, the baby is not considered a victim and the defendant legally cannot be held responsible for her death.
So while 23-year-old John Hernandez was found guilty today of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, the jurors who convicted him never heard Gabby was pregnant when she was killed.
Gabby Soto was a beloved teacher who was driving home from summer school when she was struck by Hernandez on Sante Fe Way in Shafter.
Mother and unborn baby died together, and were buried together, with Alba cradled in Gabby’s arms.
Jurors found that Hernandez was under the influence of marijuana when he swerved into the opposing lane of traffic and hit Soto head on. Prosecutor Kim Richardson says because Hernandez could be charged only with killing gabby, Judge Kenneth Twissleman did not allow her to tell jurors Gabby was pregnant. Richardson says it was extremely frustrating prosecuting this case without being able to even mention Gabby’s unborn child.
Prosecutors charged Hernandez with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, but the jury found Hernandez acted only with negligence, not gross negligence, which can be defined as extreme recklessness. Instead, they found him guilty of the lesser charge of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
Hernandez is scheduled to be sentenced next month. The judge can sentence him to as little as 16 months. The maximum he faces is four years.
Prosecutor Richardson, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and Gabby’s family hope to meet with legislators about expanding the definition of a victim to include a fetus as it applies to manslaughter.
Under California law, it is possible to be charged with the murder of a fetus, but not manslaughter.
On Saturday, Gabby’s loved ones will be at the Mother’s Against Drunk Driving walk, “Walk like MADD” where they will represent Gabby and baby Alba.