Two gang members were sentenced to 14 years and 7 years in prison, respectively, for crashing into and killing an Arizona man while fleeing from police in Concord in 2011. Mauro Gutierrez, 27, was driving the truck that struck and killed 46-year-old Flagstaff, Ariz. resident Joseph Smith in Concord on Oct. 25, 2011. His co-defendant, 26-year-old Joshua Simmons, who sat in the passenger seat during the crash, will serve the lighter of the two sentences. The two Concord men were originally charged with murder but pleaded guilty earlier this month to charges of vehicular manslaughter with gun and gang-related enhancements in a deal with the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office.
Today’s sentencing came after an emotional hearing in which Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Clare Maier allowed Smith’s ex-wife to speak directly with the defendants. Smith, a Pittsburg native living in Arizona, was in California to help with funeral arrangements for his two brothers, relatives said today. He was driving a BMW sedan in the area of Grant Street and state Highway 242 in Concord when the crash occurred, according to police. Moments earlier, a police officer attempted to stop Gutierrez after he spotted him talking on his cellphone while driving. Police and prosecutors said Gutierrez and Simmons, who were both on parole and had at least one handgun in the car, decided to flee from the officer. The pair was speeding away from police when their truck struck the front driver’s side of Smith’s car, killing him.
The defendants stood next to each other behind bars in a Martinez courtroom today as the Arizona man’s family members spoke about their lost loved one. Belinda Smith, the victim’s ex-wife, told the court that Smith was a loving father to their teenage son as well as to her two children from a previous relationship. She said that she and Smith remained “best friends” even after their divorce and still took family vacations together. “Our daughter had just told him he was about to become a grandpa, and he was so excited,” she said. His shocking death has taken a heavy toll on the family, she said. Smith held up enlarged photos of the victim for both of the defendants to see.
“This is a picture of my ex-husband,” Smith said, holding up a large photo for the defendants to see. “This is a picture of the man that you killed.” Gesturing to Simmons, Smith said, “I just want to ask you, how do you feel?” “Everyday, I wake up and have nothing but guilt just knowing we took someone’s life,” Simmons said. “If I could turn back the hands of time, I would. I’m truly sorry.” Responding to the same question, Gutierrez also apologized and said he believed the 14-year sentence would give him time to reflect on his actions.
Both men looked ashamed, often looking down as Smith implored them to use their time in prison to change their lives. “You guys are still very young men — you have a chance to turn your life around,” she said, looking at each defendant as she held up a photo of her ex-husband. “Please, for the sake of this man right here, please turn your lives around.” Maier, who was brought to tears during the sentencing hearing, said she admired Smith’s attitude toward the defendants. “I was so moved not just by your strength but by your clear desire to take this horrifying, heart-wrenching, senseless act and turn it into something positive,” Maier said.
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