Joshua Valdez is back on his feet six months after the hit-and-run accident that left him with a busted knee and traumatic brain injury, but he thinks the woman who hit him while he was walking home one night more than six months ago should have been locked up for more than a year, and supervised on probation longer than the five years the judge ordered for her at South County Courthouse Monday.
Valdez, 23 of Morgan Hill, walked up to the witness podium on his own – with the assistance of a cane – at the sentencing hearing for Sandra Arias, 28 of Morgan Hill, who pleaded guilty to the felony offense of hit and run causing great bodily injury Nov. 1, 2012. On June 16, Arias accidentally hit Valdez, a pedestrian, with her vehicle while driving north on Butterfield Boulevard in Morgan Hill, and did not stop to help him or call for assistance.
Valdez, a Gilroy High School graduate known to his family and friends as Joshie, read with slurred speech to Superior Court Judge Edward Lee the reasons why he should not let Arias off lightly for the crime.
He said in slurred speech – a lingering result of his brain injury – that he could have died from his injuries if police had not found him when they did. He rhetorically wondered what cost or sentence can be placed on the long-term brain damage he suffered as a result of the accident, leaving him with a “15-minute” short-term memory and about “three or four years” preceding the accident lost from his long-term memory. He continues to recover, though he still requires 24-hour care from his mother, he said.
“I’m trying to get into a routine, and find some normalcy in life,” Joshie said, his speech still slurred and slow. “Some events, I will never be able to experience. It will be hard for me to have a good life.”
Following the statement by Joshie and one by his mother, and after considering more than 20 letters submitted by family members and loved ones of both Joshie and Arias, the judge ordered Arias to serve one year in Santa Clara County Jail, plus five years probation. She has to surrender to authorities to begin her sentence March 8.
Arias, who is out of custody and appeared in court nicely dressed Monday with her hair tied tightly to the back of her head, stood silently during the hearing. Her attorney Riccardo Ippolito stood by her side during the proceeding.
Lee said during Monday’s sentencing hearing that while he didn’t think the maximum allowable sentence of six years in prison for a felony hit and run conviction would benefit Arias or the victim in the long term, he thought Arias deserved some time in custody. He rejected a request by Arias to wear an electronic ankle monitor without jail time for the duration of her sentence.
Also, due to her lack of a criminal history and her “expressed remorse” for the crime written in a letter she submitted to the court, Lee sentenced Arias to one year in County Jail and five years of probation, plus a restitution amount that will be determined at a future hearing.
“The essence of this is he was left there on the side of the road,” Lee said. “It doesn’t make much difference to the person who is lying in the roadway why you didn’t call (for help).”
Lee cautioned that due to Arias’ “limited financial means,” it is unlikely she will be able to pay the entirety of Valdez’ hospital bills, which currently stand at more than $1 million, according to Valdez and his mother. Those costs are likely to climb even higher as Valdez, a Gilroy High School graduate who is known to his friends and family as Joshie, will likely require future care as he continues to recover from injuries that left him in the hospital for nearly two months following the accident. It was unclear from the discussion in court to what extent Arias was insured.
During his statement in court, Valdez did not ask the judge for a specific sentence for Arias, but after the hearing, surrounded by his mother as well as his aunt, grandmother and grandfather, he said “four or five years locked up, and seven to 10 years probation” would be appropriate.
“She’ll be taken out of the community for a while, which is good,” he reasoned.
Morgan Hill police found Joshie on the sidewalk on Butterfield Boulevard near the intersection of San Pedro Avenue, about 1 a.m. June 16. He was unconscious and breathing, and paramedics who arrived at the scene determined he had been hit or run over by a moving vehicle. Authorities think he had been hit about midnight, or about an hour before they found him.
Due to a traumatic brain injury suffered in the crash, Joshie was comatose and in critical condition for several days following the accident, and was unable to leave the hospital for about two months. He also suffered numerous broken bones, cuts and bruises in the accident.
Following an investigation into the accident, police determined that Joshie had been walking home by himself when he was hit.
Police also determined that Arias was driving her silver Volkswagen Beetle when she hit Joshie in the intersection of Butterfield Boulevard and San Pedro Avenue. She was arrested June 21 after the investigation which included recorded surveillance video footage that police acquired from a church near the intersection, and other evidence, police said.
Joshie’s mother Stacie Valdez said after Monday’s hearing that she is “content” with Arias’ sentence. She also gave a statement in court before Lee ordered a sentence for Arias. She said she sympathizes with the fact that her son’s injuries were accidental, but also wondered why Arias did not stop and call for help.
“We all make mistakes, and we’re all human,” Stacie Valdez said. “But what really makes me angry is (Arias) not stopping to make a phone call” to report the accident and seek help for Joshie.
Lee added that Arias, Valdez and their respective family members had submitted a total of more than 20 letters on their loved ones’ behalf.
Joshie’s family reported the current hospital bills for his initial treatment from injuries suffered in the hit-and-run is about $1.1 million. That amount will be subject to verification, and the full amount of restitution will be determined at a future hearing for Arias.
Joshie added after the hearing that bill only covers the hospital room, and not medication, equipment and other costs associated with the treatment of injuries he suffered in the accident. He continued to attend weekly speech, occupational and physical therapy sessions after he got out of the hospital, but he said Monday he has stopped that treatment, mainly due to his inability to continue paying for it. He continues to do some exercises at home to improve his strength and balance.
“I feel like I’m getting better. I wish my speaking would clear up,” he said.
Joshie’s cousin Joseph Marquez, who describes the two as “very close,” said Joshie has been improving from his injuries every day, “but he’s nowhere close to 100 percent.”
“He’s come a long way,” Marquez said.
Marquez, who has helped Joshie’s mother take care of him since he returned home from the hospital, suggested his cousin’s recovery is more important than what happens to Arias.
“The only thing I can say (about Arias) is she’s finally owned up to what she did, and I’m happy that Joshie has been getting better day by day,” Marquez said.