After 15 years, an ending: Man sentenced for 1994 motor vehicle collision

Posted: Friday, July 30, 2010

Becky Barrett waited 15 years and flew 1,200 miles for this moment Thursday afternoon -- to speak to the man who broke seven bones in her body when his vehicle collided with hers head-on after he had been drinking.

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Photo By M. Scott Moon
Photo By M. Scott Moon
Becky Barrett, center, responds to comments made by the defense during a sentencing hearing in Kenai Superior Court for the man who severely injured her in an alcohol-related accident 15 years ago in Soldotna. She is flanked by high school friend Josie Juskewicz (foreground) and Kathy Hansen of the Alaska Office of Victim's Rights.

"Your honor I would like the defendant to know I forgive him and wish him peace," the 34-year-old Oregon resident told Superior Court Judge Carl Bauman in an emotional testimony in the Kenai Courthouse.

Barrett was speaking about Felipe M. Perez, 49, the man driving the car that smashed into hers. Perez on Thursday was pleading guilty to a charge of third-degree assault, a class C felony. He will serve three years probation and must complete a substance abuse evaluation, followup treatments and pay restitution to Barrett.

Barrett was on her way home to Nikiski from a friend's house in Sterling in September of 1994 when Perez crashed into her Ford Ranger. She suffered a fractured femur, shattered elbow joint, fractured thighbone, and fractured first rib. She also had a broken wrist and a fractured finger. She still feels the effect of the crash.

"To this day I still have glass that was embedded deeply in my scalp and forehead that still comes out," Barrett said.

She said after the crash she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and suffered from anxiety in the years after.

"Some things doctors can fix and others they cannot," she said. "My healing has been delayed (by) the legal process."

Perez had originally been indicted by a grand jury in November of 1994 on first-degree assault with a deadly weapon while he was allegedly driving drunk. The initial case against him alleged that he had a .119 blood alcohol level when he crashed into Barrett. The legal limit then was .10 instead of the current .08. But during court hearings, Perez's alleged blood alcohol reading was lowered to .086.

The charges were dropped.

The next year, Perez was re-indicted on similar charges. By that time, however, he'd left the state. A warrant was issued for Perez's arrest, but nothing came of the case until 2006, when he showed up as a victim himself, stabbed numerous times in a mugging in Georgia. He was eventually arrested for the outstanding warrant.

Prosecutors worked out Thursday's plea agreement due to evidence of Perez's character, no criminal conduct and the six months jail time he had already served while waiting for the hearing.

At Thursday's hearing, a Spanish-language translator repeated to Perez the judge's explanation of charges and conditions, including the possibility of his deportment because of the conviction. Then Bauman asked him if he had anything to say.

Perez at first refused. One of his public defenders leaned over and whispered in his ear. Then he spoke.

"I feel too sorry that this happened," he said. "I know how she feel. I feel bad this happened to her."

Bill Taylor, the assistant public defender, said Perez had no prior criminal record before the accident and none since. He said Perez has been sober and has had the same job for 13 years.

"I don't suspect we'll have any problems with him again," he said. "Perhaps the client would've won the case without conviction but he was eager to accept responsibility."

Kelly Lawson, assistant district attorney, said the felony conviction would be with Perez the rest of his life.

"It's not a slap on the wrist here," she said.

Barrett, who works in the marketing department of a medical clinic and coaches middle school track, flew from Oregon to be at the hearing Thursday prepared to ask the judge to allow the case to proceed to criminal trial. She said she was disappointed and disagreed with Perez's sentence.

"I don't think the punishment is appropriate," she said. "I can accept whatever happened here today but I want for the record that I disagree with this plea agreement."

The problem for her, she said, is driving under the influence is a serious and often deadly crime that is preventable and she felt the reduced sentence diminished the severity of her experience.

"The actions of the defendant didn't keep me from doing the things I love to do but I do those things with pain and frustration," she said.

Even though Barrett said she feels like the system is "broken" and she was let down by it, she still felt relieved to finally have a resolution.

"I feel like 1,000 pounds were lifted off my shoulders," Barrett said. "I am happy my story has an ending."

Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at brielle.schaeffer@peninsulaclarion.com.



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