A 20-year-old woman who killed an Eastvale mother of two and severely injured one of her children in a wreck caused by the defendant's alcohol and drug impairment was sentenced today to nearly eight years in state prison -- a punishment that the victim's family openly denounced as insufficient.
Grace Christine Whitman of Rancho Cucamonga fatally injured 28-year-old Cynthia Michelle Pacheco and caused major physical harm to the woman's then-5-year-old son, Josiah Rodriguez, in 2018.
"Grace is a murderer and deserves much stronger punishment," the victim's older sister told Riverside County Superior Court Judge Thomas Kelly, who handed down the 92-month sentence.
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"Consider the life and lives she has destroyed,'' Gina Pacheco said. "She has left us with a debilitating stench. But she will no longer disgrace our minds our hearts. My sister Cynthia's spark rises. We will remember her with our broken, beating hearts."
She said today would have been her sister's 30th birthday.
"Our lives were irrevocably changed by this great tragedy," Adolfo Pacheco told the court. "I lost a beautiful daughter, who was helping her community and making inroads in her job. And there has been no remorse or accountability. Our lives were changed forever, and this is not a good sentence."
Another judge, Eric Helgesen, accepted Whitman's guilty plea in November to charges of DUI gross vehicular manslaughter, DUI resulting in injuries and a sentence-enhancing great bodily injury allegation. The prosecution did not negotiate the plea, which was made directly to the court.
It was unclear why Kelly was left to dispose the case.
Adolfo Pacheco and his wife, Rachel, told the judge they had become legal guardians of their late daughter's sons, the youngest of whom is 5-year-old Elijah Rodriguez. The grandparents said the loss of their mother has deeply affected the boys, and the extreme physical trauma to Josiah because of the crash has reduced his learning capacity, leaving him with extensive neurological damage. One of the child's legs was also almost sheared off in the wreck, they said.
Their mother's younger sister, Amanda Pacheco, said a void had not only been left in her family but the entire community following the deadly collision.
"She was a bodily combat instructor and helped women escape abusive households," the young woman said tearfully. "My sister would have loved on Grace and tried to help her turn her life around. This is just a fragment of the defendant's life. But we will be dealing with this for decades."
The defendant's grandmother, Cynthia Corey, told the court that her granddaughter had been mistreated starting in her earliest years by her mother, who suffered from mental illness and killed herself two months before her daughter caused the fatal crash. Whitman was a substance abuser before her mother's death, Corey acknowledged.
"She was so sad about her mom that day that she wasn't thinking," Corey said. "Me and my family offer our sincerest apologies. We beg for forgiveness."
Whitman turned toward the victim's loved ones and told them that she wished "it would have been me" who died in the collision.
"I apologize for what I did," she said tearfully. "I don't recognize the person who did that. I hope God will forgive me."
Kelly said vehicular manslaughter cases involving drinking or drugged driving were among "the toughest."
"In these cases, nobody ever walks out whole," the judge said. "Cynthia was a real helper and healer. The real punishment for you, Miss Whitman, is everyday that you look in the mirror and remember"
Whitman was driving her 2016 Subaru Impreza west on Schleisman Road about 5 p.m. on June 4, 2018, when she went through a red light at Scholar Way.
At the same time, Pacheco was driving her 2005 Toyota Corolla southbound through the intersection via Scholar.
"Whitman broadsided the Toyota as it went through a green traffic signal," sheriff's Deputy Dacia Medina wrote in an arrest warrant declaration.
Pacheco and her older son were taken to Riverside Community Hospital, where she died four days later.
Whitman was not hurt. She got out of her vehicle immediately after the wreck and sat down on a curb.
"Whitman confirmed she was the driver of the Subaru and had been drinking alcoholic beverages in the morning and afternoon," Medina said.
The defendant's blood-alcohol content registered .14, almost twice the legal limit to operate a motor vehicle in California. According to Medina, Whitman's blood work also revealed the presence of marijuana and prescription anti-anxiety medication.
Pacheco's family said that at the time of the crash, she was en route to set up a polling station for a primary election the following day.