Gabriel Pena’s father, Angel Pena, head bowed; grandfather William Pina, in blue; and mother, Terra Pina, eyes closed, react during Friday’s sentencing of Christopher Roman. He was convicted of vehicular homicide in Gabriel’s death.
Lisa Pittard, who was first on the scene of a crash that killed 3-month-old Gabriel Pena, wore a “Justice for Gabriel” shirt in support of the family at Friday’s sentencing.
After hearing from family members of a 3-month-old boy who died in a drunken-driving crash last summer, Judge Daniel Stahnke said Friday he had only one choice:
He sentenced the driver, Christopher Roman, to nearly 5 1/2 years in prison, the maximum penalty. The judge’s decision came despite the fact that prosecutors had requested 4 1/2 years.
“You have done a hideous thing to this family and to this community,” Stahnke said, addressing Roman. “It would be an injustice not to give you the maximum I can give you.”
Roman, 26, of Oregon City, Ore., pleaded guilty Nov. 30 to vehicular homicide, a Class A felony. The crime carries a sentencing range of 31 to 41 months, with a 24-month enhancement because of Roman’s 2005 DUI conviction.
At the 45-minute hearing, Senior Deputy Prosecutor Kasey Vu told the judge that Gabriel Pena was a completely innocent victim. The night of the crash on Aug. 21, the infant was seated in his car seat in his parents’ Acura. The car was parked along northbound Interstate 5, as mom Terra Pina and dad Angel Pena waited for assistance for a flat tire. Having visited family in Oregon, the family was headed home to the Puget Sound area.
Meanwhile, a disoriented and inebriated Roman was attempting to find his way home from a party in Beaverton, Ore., when he unintentionally drove into Vancouver. Witnesses reported him driving recklessly, weaving in and out of lanes, Vu said.
Roman’s car hit a concrete jersey barrier and then crashed into the back of the family’s Acura near the Main Street exit. Gabriel Pena died at the scene from blunt force trauma.
Roman’s blood-alcohol level, taken afterward at the hospital, was 0.12 percent, 50 percent above the 0.08 percent level usually considered to be proof of DUI.
Addressing Stahnke, Terra Pina said her son was full of spunk and happiness in his short life. Born 8 pounds 4 ounces, Gabriel could lift his head and sit up by the time he was 3 months old. He was a strong baby, Pina said, and she expected him to start crawling soon.
“I knew I could never love anyone as much as that baby,” she said. “I promised him every day that I would never let anything happen to him.”
Pina said she suffered extreme guilt following the crash. But then she said she realized, “It wasn’t me who killed my son.”
She asked the judge for the maximum penalty for Roman. “I think the more he has to think about what he’s done and reflect on his actions would make a huge difference,” Pina said.
When it was his turn to speak, Roman expressed remorse to the family. “Not a minute of the day goes by when I don’t think about what I’ve done,” he said.
Before Roman spoke, the judge was handed photos of the crash wreckage as well as family photos, including pictures of a mom’s group Pina belongs to wearing T-shirts that read: “Justice for Gabriel.”
Glancing up from the pictures, Stahnke sternly said that while Roman’s defense attorney and Vu agreed the defendant accepted responsibility, “I can find no part of myself to compliment you.”
Though he did own up to the crime by pleading guilty, Roman’s action will affect the family forever, the judge said.
The defense and prosecution agreed to recommend 55 months, but “I reject that,” Stahnke said.
“You will spend every last day” of the 65-month sentence behind bars, he added.
Roman’s sentence includes almost four months of credit for time served in the Clark County Jail. Also, his Oregon driver’s license will be revoked.