SANTA FE, N.M. — Patrick Jimenez had a friend blow into the interlock device to start his vehicle on the day he crashed into an elderly Santa Fe couple, a move that may have tipped state District Judge Stephen Pfeffer into sentencing him to serve nine years – with all but four suspended – for his second DWI.
With time already served, Jimenez faces 2 to 2 1/2 more years behind bars.
It was an emotional sentencing hearing in Pfeffer’s courtroom, as nearly 20 of Jimenez’s friends and family members sat behind him in support. Nine of them took to the podium to beseech that Jimenez, 43, not be put away.
Jimenez’s son Christopher Martinez struggled through sobs as he told Pfeffer his father had achieved sobriety after decades of struggles.
“Prison won’t help him,” Martinez said “It’s just going to make him worse.”
In the early afternoon of May 21, 2010, Jimenez was driving his Kia Optima on Rodeo Road when he went to pass another vehicle and plowed into a Hyundai Accent carrying Shirley Barnes and John Geier, who were 82 and 78, respectively. Geier suffered minor cuts and bruises, but Barnes broke her shoulder and leg.
Jimenez had gotten drunk the previous night, prosecutor Juan Valencia told Pfeffer, and then awoke that morning and drank again. He had a friend blow into the interlock that was installed after his previous DWI conviction that April.
“He was in the opposing lane passing other vehicles” when the wreck occurred, Valencia said. “The inference is strong that he passed out.”
A blood draw after the crash revealed Jimenez’s blood-alcohol content was 0.17 at the time, Pfeffer said.
Barnes has died since the crash, and Geier said her death may have been directly related.
“I’m convinced that Shirley Barnes is dead because of the accident,” Geier said. “She was fighting cancer, and that fight was put on hold while she had to recover from bone breakage.”
Barnes was undergoing chemotherapy for a particularly aggressive form of cancer, Geier said, but had to stop the treatments so her broken bones could heal.
Said Valencia: “We couldn’t medically prove Ms. Barnes’s life was shortened (by the crash), but her quality of life was severely affected. … During these last days when they could have been enjoying themselves, they had to deal with this case every day.”
Defense attorney Simon Kubiak painted Jimenez as the survivor of a troubled upbringing, which included extreme mental and physical abuse as a child at the hands of his stepfather, causing Jimenez “to grow in a way that caused great anxiety and mental health problems,” Kubiak said.
A parade of character witnesses begged the judge to sentence Jimenez to probation rather than jail time, including family members and co-workers who said he’d put his struggles with alcohol behind him over the past year.
Jimenez issued a passionate, tear-strewn apology to Geier. He told the court he was once stabbed 15 times. “God gave me another life, and I apologize for Ms. Barnes, for her life,” he said. “There’s not one day I don’t wake up and regret taking just that one drink.”
He described his 20-year struggle with alcohol addiction and his recent success in a Santa Fe recovery program.
“I had the shakes. I couldn’t eat for a week,” he said. “It’s something I didn’t know I could do in my heart and in my soul. It’s something I’ve accomplished, and I’m proud of myself.”
He told the judge “prison won’t get me anywhere,” and described a previous five-month stint in jail, when he witnessed needle sharing and saw someone try heroin for the first time.
“It only takes one time to think, ‘You’re locked up,’ ” he said. “You just think, ‘Should I try it?’ ”
Pfeffer acknowledged Jimenez as “a very complicated person.”
“You’ve done good things in your life,” the judge said. “Obviously a lot of people love you and you’ve worked hard to support not only your children, but your stepchildren.”
But he couldn’t ignore that Jimenez was on probation for a previous DWI when he drank and drove again, Pfeffer said, and had someone else trick the interlock before the crash.
“At some point the court has to consider how to protect society,” Pfeffer said.
Jimenez has been incarcerated since the crash and will get credit for that time served, so he’s likely to be in prison for between 2 and 2 1/2 years, followed by five years of probation if he can avoid backsliding.
Before the hearing wrapped, Geier asked the judge if he could shake Jimenez’s hand. As they did so, Geier told Jimenez, “Good luck.”