There were many apologies Wednesday at the sentencing of Mariano Salaz Jr., whose reckless, drunken driving caused the death of Vicente Griego, a boy not quite 2 years old who was a passenger in the back of an Infiniti that Salaz rear-ended.
Salaz careered off, failing to stop, and hit another vehicle before Salaz was stopped a quarter-mile down the road by law enforcement, whose vehicle also got a double-ramming from Salaz’s Dodge truck.
Salaz, whose blood alcohol content was 0.16, entered a no contest plea to homicide by vehicle and leaving the scene of an accident, exposing him to a potential six years in prison.
District Judge Briana Zamora imposed the full six years and found that the nature of the crime qualified it as a serious violent offense, limiting Salaz’s ability to earn good time. He has already served 10 months in jail.
The emotional hearing in a packed courtroom began with a video that featured the child’s plaintive warble singing “Jesus loves me, this I know,” followed by photos of him in a high chair, reaching upward, sleeping in his crib and car seat, and his happy parents beaming at him.
“He was a wonderful, happy little boy,” Vicente’s father, Jonathan Griego, said of the child, who died of brain injuries after six days in the hospital and whose organs were donated to help sick children. “He could just look at you and make you feel better.”
Salaz was 20 at the time of the early morning accident in August 2012 on Coors Boulevard, a high school graduate with no criminal record who had gone on to get a degree in automotive technology.
Salaz Jr., his attorney Natalie Bruce and Mariano Salaz Sr. each apologized at least once to Jonathan Griego and the child’s mother, Nicole Diaz, and other family members they acknowledged being in deep pain.
Assistant District Attorney Aaron Baca argued for the maximum time allowed by the plea agreement, noting that Ian Sanchez, the driver of the second car hit by Salaz, suffered serious shoulder and knee injuries, and that even after officers stopped Salaz, he wouldn’t roll down the window to talk to them. In the end, they had to break the window to make contact, Baca said.
By Salaz’s own estimate, he was driving about 60 in the southbound lane and the Griego vehicle was going about 40 miles per hour, he said.
Salaz told the family he was sorry and that he’d been a good son, brother and friend who had never been in trouble and loved kids.
“I just lost my mother when I started college, and I started drinking to forget about it,” he said, adding that he was willing to take full responsibility for his acts, enroll in a therapeutic program and pay restitution.
Vicente’s mother Nicole Diaz told the judge that she misses her son “running around the house, pulling canned foods from the cupboards. I miss cleaning marks off the wall … . I’ll never send him off to school.
“I’m left with the title of grieving mother for the rest of my days,” she said.