+Nearly 20 years ago, a grieving mother asked an Albuquerque judge to order the young man who killed her daughter to place a rose on her daughter’s grave each year on the anniversary of her death to remind him of the life he took, the wrong he did, the damage he wrought.
And she asked that he donate at least $5 each year to Mothers Against Drunk Driving as a reminder to never again drink and drive and possibly kill again.
I was in that courtroom in May 1999 covering the sentencing, and I remember thinking that mother’s ideas were good ones.
But the immutable District Judge Frank Allen Jr. apparently did not share my assessment. Instead, he sentenced Brian Wagner, then 21, to three years for DWI vehicular homicide and an additional 90 days for aggravated DWI for the Aug. 26, 1998, death of MaryMargaret Sosa, a 911 dispatcher for the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department.
Sosa, 26, was driving back to work from a late-night shift dinner break when Wagner’s truck sped through a red light at Eubank and Academy NE and tore through her red Dodge Neon, killing her instantly.
Wagner’s blood-alcohol concentration tested at or above 0.16 percent, twice the state’s presumed level of intoxication. Police at the scene said he appeared more concerned with seeking medical attention for himself than rendering aid to Sosa.
Wagner’s sentence was half the maximum he had faced for killing Sosa. Allen said he knocked off three years because of Wagner’s previously clean record, his education and steady employment (at the time he was a waiter at a Garduño’s), his “extreme” remorse and his amenability to treatment, which he had already voluntarily begun.
“He was a good citizen up until this,” Allen said. “I think he can be again.”
Sosa’s mother, Teresita Sanchez, told me she wanted to believe that, too. Still, she was not convinced.
“I believe he’s remorseful,” she said after the sentencing. “We don’t hate him. We just wanted him to serve some time. It isn’t until people know they’re going to get hard time, they’re going to get hurt, that they change their behaviors.”
Turns out, she was right.
Wagner served less than two years of his prison sentence and completed probation in 2004. In 2005, court records show he was arrested on and later convicted of DWI in Utah.
In 2010, he was charged with tampering with a vehicle and using a telephone to terrify, intimidate, harass or annoy, but was found not guilty of the charges.
Then, in 2011, he was charged with assaulting a household member. That charge was dismissed.
But charges that same year of aggravated DWI – his third DWI – and attempting to steal a vehicle stuck.
For them, Wagner accepted a DWI Repeat Offender agreement, pleading guilty in exchange for 90 days wearing an ankle monitor under the Community Custody Program, 96 hours of community service and the suspension of 638 days behind bars.
Wagner’s probation ended in January 2016, according to court records. No other charges appear on his New Mexico records since then.
Perhaps, finally, behaviors have changed.
Wagner, now 41, did not return a call. Photos on his Facebook appear to show a man enjoying a happy life, employed, gathering with friends and hiking mountains.
Sanchez, who now lives in Arizona, didn’t want to see those photos. Her daughter isn’t enjoying a happy life, she said. Sometimes, neither is she.
“It’s been 20 years in August, but it’s like it happened just recently,” she said. “When your child dies before you do, you never get over the pain and sorrow. You just learn to bear it.”
This Mother’s Day, like every day, she will remember her three children, including the one she lost 20 years ago, a bright and kind woman known for her love of laughter, purple flowers, dragons and curly hair.
They called her Moggie. Sanchez still does.
“Whenever I see a purple or lavender flower or see a dragon or hear a laugh, I think it’s Moggie,” she said. “I tell her, ‘Oh hi, Moggie, I love you.’ Maybe we look for her in things that don’t matter to others, but they do to us, because they remind us of her.”
It’s discouraging, she said, to see that convicted drunken drivers like Wagner don’t get the message the first time around, that the justice system is sometimes too lenient, too impotent.
“If Brian Wagner truly felt remorse or regret for killing MaryMargaret, he would not be a repeat offender,” she said. “It’s as if her life wasn’t worthy enough for him to regret and not repeat his drinking and driving. It’s hard for us to understand – how can he take a drink and drive again? How does he not tell himself, ‘Last time I drove after drinking, I killed a young woman.’ ”
As far as she knows, Wagner has never left a rose on MaryMargaret’s grave or sent money to MADD.
Maybe, all these years later, it would still be a good idea to do that.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg.