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Roxana Saenz had recently graduated from an Albuquerque high school and looked forward to enrolling in the University of New Mexico in 2020 when a drunken driver swerved into her lane of traffic, killing the 18-year-old.
A state district judge on Tuesday sentenced Bernadette Etsitty to 12 years in prison in Saenz’s death following her guilty plea in April on a charge of vehicular homicide while under the influence of alcohol.
Etsitty, 42, had consumed a 12-pack of beer and was driving 66 mph in a 40 mph zone at the time of the fatal crash on Candelaria near Richmond NE, a prosecutor said at Etsitty’s sentencing hearing.
Zach Jones, senior criminal counsel for the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office, showed security camera video of Etsitty’s eastbound Chevrolet Silverado as it veered across the median and collided head-on with Saenz’s westbound Honda Civic.
Saenz’s father, Leopoldo Saenz, told the judge at Etsitty’s sentencing hearing that he and his family have had trouble coping with the loss of his daughter.
“Everything has transformed into a lot of sadness and pain since that day,” he said in Spanish through a translator. “I can’t get my mind around the fact that she is no longer here.”
Saenz had graduated from Del Norte High School only about a month before the June 23, 2020, wreck that killed her. She was working at Blue Cross Animal Clinic in Albuquerque at the time and planned a career as a veterinarian.
“From the time she was little, she always wanted to be a vet,” her father told Judge Courtney Weaks. “My daughter will no longer be able to pursue the dreams she had in this life.”
Etsitty apologized to Saenz’s family and said she recognized that she has a problem with alcohol.
“I have deep remorse for the incident that took place,” Estitty said. “I just wanted them to know I’m very sorry for what took place.”
Court records show Etsitty has been charged three times for driving while intoxicated, including two offenses in 2006 and a third-offense DWI in 2018. The 2018 case was dismissed by a McKinley County magistrate judge in 2019, records show.
Etsitty’s attorney, Graham Dumas, said his client’s alcohol problems stemmed from the trauma of sexual and physical violence she experienced growing up, and argued that prison would not provide her the trauma-based therapy she needs to recover.
Weaks admonished Etsitty to take advantage of treatment programs available in prison and to take personal responsibility for her own recovery.