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Man Sentenced to 5-15 Years In Sharon DUI Death

Faces Victim Who Survived Crash

Carlos Garcia talks with his attorney Sandy Nelson in Windsor District Court in White River Junction in April. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

Carlos Garcia talks with his attorney Sandy Nelson in Windsor District Court in White River Junction in April. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

— A 20-year-old Sharon resident with a history of parental abuse and alcoholism was sentenced to 5 to 15 years in prison yesterday for a 2011 drunken driving collision that killed one woman and seriously injured another woman.

Two stories unfolded during the roughly five-hour sentencing hearing at Windsor Superior Court: one of Carlos Garcia, a young man whose mother introduced him to alcohol before he was a teenager, and another of one of the victims, a Texas judge proud of her reputation for taking a hard line against drunk drivers, who also acknowledged that society needs rehabilitative programs in addition to prison sentences to address the problem.

“Alcohol has been my ultimate downfall, as well as my mother’s and father’s,” Garcia told Judge Robert Gerety in Windsor Superior Court. “I always told myself I wouldn’t be like my mother and father, and I tried to keep my word.”

According to court documents, Garcia’s blood-alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit when he swerved into the opposite lane on Route 14 on Oct. 13, 2011, crashing into a vehicle driven by San Antonio judge Karen Crouch. Crouch received serious injuries and her sister-in-law, 53-year-old Zyra Flores, was transported to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center where she died. Crouch had been in the area for a conference at Vermont Law School.

Garcia was driving more than 15 mph above the speed limit, police said, and had repeatedly swerved into the southbound lane before smashing into Crouch’s Nissan Altima in front of the Sharon Fire Department. He was combative with emergency responders at the scene, police said, and investigators found an open container of Strawberry Lemonade Blast Colt 45, and a bottle of hydroxyzine, an antihistamine, in Garcia’s Volkswagon Beetle.

Garcia had moved to Vermont only weeks before the accident, according to court documents. He was not wearing a seat belt and fractured his hip in the accident.

Since his arrest, Garcia has been held at the Northeast Correctional Complex in St. Johnsbury, Vt.

Yesterday, Garcia told a story of growing up in California, where both his parents were often involved with police. At 7 years old, Garcia and his two sisters came to the attention of child protection services and were removed from their home. But it wasn’t long before Garcia was returned to his parents.

When Garcia was 11 years old, his father was deported, and at 12 years old, his mother became abusive and introduced him to alcohol. Garcia’s mother often yelled and slapped him, but when they drank together, she was nicer, and Garcia said he perceived drinking together as a bond.

Then at 15 years old, his mother died. Left with no parents, Garcia soon found himself living on the streets. He tried living with an aunt in Arizona before moving to Vermont to stay with another aunt.

Garcia’s aunt did not supply him with alcohol, but he soon met an older man, whom he referred to as his boyfriend and who bought him alcohol and gave him a car.

It was a controlling relationship, Garcia said. On Oct. 13, 2011, the day of the accident, Garcia said he knew the relationship was unhealthy and he needed to leave, so he drank to “mellow” his nerves.

The man threatened Garcia by phone and said that if he did not return to his house with the car, then he would call the police and report that Garcia had stolen his car.

“I acted on impulse,” Garcia said.

At the end of his statement, Garcia pulled a crumpled piece of paper out of his pocket and turned away from the judge to face the victim’s family.

“I’ve waited almost two years to say this, but still I don’t know if I’ve found the right words. I want you to know that I am extremely remorseful for the pain that I inflicted on your families. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me one day,” Garcia said before sitting down, looking at the floor and beginning to cry.

Crouch, the driver of the car that Garcia hit, looked back at him. The accident not only killed Crouch’s sister-in-law, but it also put her in an ironic position. Crouch had been a judge in state trial court in Texas until 2010, when she became a senior judge in Texas. She said she has sentenced more than 150,000 drunken driver cases as a judge.

“I have a reputation in my community for being one of the toughest judges on drunken driving cases,” Crouch said during yesterday’s hearing.

In Texas, Garcia could have served a sentence of 30 years, 50 years or even die in prison, Crouch said during her 30-minute statement, in which she read from a 19-page bound packet.

“We need to work for a solution and we can’t incarcerate drunk driving away, I know that,” Crouch said, later adding, “I feel that this is a light punishment, but maybe that is because everything is harsher in Texas.”

Crouch added that in Texas, “scram” devices are placed on prisoners ankles and she hopes one can be used on Garcia after he is released. A scram devise takes samples of perspiration every 30 minutes to detect alcohol levels in the blood.

Crouch, wearing a bright blue pants suit, related what she remembered of the accident during the hearing. After Garcia’s car collided into her vehicle, the car spun three or four times before Crouch felt a large thud. She called out to her sister-in-law and said, “Z, Z, are you ok?”

When Flores didn’t respond, Crouch grabbed her wrist and felt for a pulse, but couldn’t find one. She then grabbed a small mirror out of a purse and placed it under her nose to see if there was any breath, but there was not.

In the months that followed, Crouch went through an excruciating recovery process. She spent a week at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, where she was treated for a fractured lower spine, dislocated knee, three fractures in her left wrist and a sprained right wrist. She had glass embedded in her foot.

When she finally returned home to Texas, she couldn’t shower on her own or brush her own hair or teeth. If she needed to leave the house, she had to be transported by an ambulance. Crouch still has not returned to her job as a judge.

Garcia pleaded guilty last month to DUI resulting in a fatality and DUI resulting in serious injury. Judge Gerety said he appreciated Crouch’s comments about Texas laws, but said he had to follow Vermont laws.

“Truth be known, I don’t know anything about the laws in the state of Texas,” Gerety said. “It would be error for me to apply the laws of Texas to this decision.”

Gerety said he came to his conclusion to provide a minimum sentence of 5 years because most meaningful rehabilitation programs begin toward the end of an inmate’s sentence, and Gerety wanted to create a sentence that “maximizes the chance that the defendant will have access to programs as soon as possible.” Gerety also suggested the use of a scram system, or something similar.

Garcia will receive credit for time served and said he has already started working to receive his high school diploma. After his release, he said he hopes to attend college and mentor young adults.

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.