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Man sentenced to maximum time for DWI crash that killed UNM student

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Roberto Jesus Lucero, who pleaded guilty in a DWI crash that killed 19-year-old Jacob Salazar last January, was sentenced to six years in prison Friday – the maximum under the law that could be imposed by 2nd Judicial District Judge Brett Loveless.

In court, Lucero, 35, read a statement to the Salazar family, apologizing and taking responsibility for driving while drunk in the early morning of Jan. 9. Lucero said the crash was an accident and that he did not mean to harm anyone.

Salazar’s mother, Dolores, however, read an emotional statement to the court: “Our son did not die in an accident,” she said. “Accidents are unavoidable. Jacob was killed because Mr. Lucero made a choice. He chose to drink, he chose to drive, and now we have to live with his consequences.”

Addressing Lucero directly, she said, “We hope we can forgive you someday; we are not there yet.”

Lucero was on parole at the time of the fatal accident on Coors near Gun Club SW. As a condition of his parole, he was not to drink alcohol.

Assistant District Attorney Alfred Quintana told the court that Lucero’s blood alcohol level at the time of the crash was 0.15 percent, nearly twice the state’s presumed level of intoxication.

Quintana also reviewed for the court Lucero’s lengthy criminal history, which includes burglarizing a vehicle, possession of burglary tools, aggravated burglary and numerous probation violations, including testing positive for alcohol and drugs.

Lucero had served 403 days of a 730-day sentence when he was released on parole on May 8, 2015.

Given that history, Quintana asked the court to sentence Lucero to the maximum six years in prison allowed under the law.

Lucero’s attorney, Matthew Baughman, asked the court to impose three years and said his client was remorseful, took responsibility with his guilty plea, was dealing with his own injuries resulting from that crash, has a young daughter, and has entered a drug and alcohol treatment program.

In sentencing Lucero to the maximum six years allowed, Loveless said he did not doubt the man’s sincerity and remorse, but noted that the “ripple effect” from his actions has devastated the Salazar family. And although Lucero will eventually get out of prison and can resume his life, Jacob Salazar’s life was cut short and that absence has forever changed the Salazar family, he said.

Under new sentencing guidelines that went into effect after the January crash, a DWI collision involving death can now result in a sentence of up to 15 years.

A freshman on an academic scholarship at the University of New Mexico, Jacob Salazar hoped to become a mechanical engineer. He graduated last year from Rio Grande High School, where he was the class salutatorian, starting quarterback for the varsity football team and a member of the golf team.

Rio Grande High School Athletic Director Pete Pino previously told the Journal that Salazar was witty, congenial, down-to-earth and popular among teachers and students.

Salazar’s father, Jake, a retired Albuquerque police officer, said after the Friday sentencing that he understands that six years was the maximum under the law that Lucero could receive, but he was glad that the law has been changed to provide more time.

“We’re thankful that he (Lucero) took responsibility,” Salazar said.

Jacob Salazar’s younger brother, Josh, 16, said the sentence brings “some closure, but not much.”

Sister Mari, 14, agreed and said simply, “We want our brother back.”