BEFORE getting into her car, aspiring teacher Kayla Mendoza tweeted “2 drunk 2 care”.
Minutes later she drove the wrong way along the Sawgrass Expressway near the city of Coral Springs, Florida, for 11km at speeds up to 130kmh before smashing head-on into a car driven by 21-year-old Kaitlyn Nicole Ferrante on November 16, 2013.
Ferrente’s passenger, her 21-year-old best friend Marisa Catronio was killed instantly. Ferrente died four days later in Broward Health North Medical Centre, Deerfield Beach.
Mendoza, then 20, had a blood alcohol reading of 0.15 — nearly twice the legal limit of 0.8 — after downing two large margaritas — containing three shots of tequila each with her boss Marcelo Bruzzo. Florida Highway Patrol also found traces of marijuana in her blood system.
Mendoza, who was a student and worked part-time at a telco company in Coral Springs, was sentenced on Monday to 24 years in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of DUI manslaughter on February 18. She also faces six years om probation upon her release and is banned from driving for the rest of her life,Local 10 reported.
“I think about them everyday and I regret my choices everyday,” Mendoza told the court.
“I don’t remember deciding to drive, so I can’t even tell you what was going through my mind when I made that decision. I have no excuses for anything I’ve done. I just ask for forgiveness.”
Ferrante’s mother, Christine Ferrante also took the stand.
“The law states the minimum penalty for DUI manslaughter is 15 years — maximum 30,” she said. “If the lesser sentence is given, what kind of example and message are we sending out there? Change has to start with someone and somewhere.”
Mendoza, who broke both her legs in the crash, had apologised to the victim’s families when she pleaded guilty last month.
“I know this is long overdue, but I just want to tell you all how sorry I am,” Mendoza said with a quivering voice. “If I could trade places with them, I would, but there’s nothing I could do to change it and I’m sorry.”
Mendoza, who said the ‘2 drunk 2 care’ tweet was sent to her boyfriend whom she was arguing with, said she prayed for forgiveness but knew she did not deserve it.
“It breaks my heart to know that I’ve broken your hearts,” she said. “It’s my fault. One mistake changed all of our lives, one stupid mistake, and I’m sorry.”
Citing Mendoza’s remorse, lack of criminal history and age, Broward Circuit Judge David Haimes said sentencing her to the maximum 30 years would be inappropriate. The victims’ families had pleaded with him to set an example of Mendoza to prevent similar tragedies in the future.
Both families are suing Mendoza, seeking unspecified damages, her employer T-Mobile and the bar where she was illegally served the margaritas, Tijuana Taxi.
Her guilty pleas all but assure that she will be found liable for causing their deaths.
“She’ll be paying off any judgment they win against her for the rest of her life,” her lawyer Will Anderson told the Sun Sentinel.
-The Daily Telegraph