BY JASON KOTOWSKI Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
In an unusual twist, a defendant who took a plea deal in a hit-and-run that killed a pedestrian was taken into custody Thursday morning but won't be formally sentenced until he completes a 9-month jail term.
The concern on the part of prosecutors and the victim's family was that Gustavo Alvarez-Solis serve the most jail time possible under the plea deal and not be released early due to prison realignment or jail overcrowding, prosecutor Dianna Carter said. The plea deal was fashioned so that he would serve a full nine months, and then would be released and placed on five years' felony probation at his Oct. 9 sentencing. Alvarez-Solis pleaded no contest to hit-and-run causing death of permanent serious injury.
Still, nine months in custody provides little comfort to the family of Brandon Weaver, 30. The father of two was walking east on 24th Street on March 5 when Alvarez-Solis, 53 at the time, struck him with a pickup and drove away.
Weaver died hours later.
"(Alvarez-Solis) took my friend, my son, and no matter what I think should happen it's not going to happen," Weaver's mother, Roxanne Weaver, said in Department 10 of Kern County Superior Court.
Roxanne Weaver urged people to love their family with all their heart because you never know if you'll see them again.
Jessica Hatton, mother of Weaver's eldest son, said the 10-year-old hasn't been the same since his father was killed. He used to be a vibrant, happy boy, but now is angry and sad and often doesn't want to leave his bed, she said.
She'll never forget the boy's reaction when told what had happened to his father.
"The hardest day of my life was to watch my son fall to the floor in tears," Hatton said.
Why did he leave?
Several family members said the law should provide a stiffer penalty for people who strike and kill someone while driving and who then leave the scene. Some also said they believe the reason Alvarez-Solis didn't stop was that he was drunk.
Alvarez-Solis has a 2003 DUI conviction.
"How do you not stop?" Troy Hatton, Jessica Hatton's husband, asked outside the courtroom. "People stop when they hit a cat."
H.A. Sala, the attorney representing Alvarez-Solis, said his client was driving home from work when he hit Weaver. There is no evidence alcohol was involved, he said.
Sala said his client is remorseful and ashamed about what happened, but the reason he didn't stop is that he suffered a flashback related to a horrific crash he was involved in years ago. Alvarez-Solis was driving through an intersection when another vehicle ran a stop sign and T-boned his vehicle.
Alvarez-Solis' passenger -- his best friend -- was killed in the crash, as was the driver of the other vehicle, Sala said. Alvarez-Solis suffered head trauma as a result of the collision.
Sala said he hired a psychologist to examine Alvarez-Solis, and it was determined the defendant suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Hitting Weaver brought the past experience to the surface and Alvarez-Solis, experiencing extreme emotional distress, panicked and left the scene, according to the attorney.
Part of what convinced Sala his client was truly remorseful was the video of his interview by Bakersfield police. Sala said at first Alvarez-Solis denied hitting Weaver, but as the interview progressed he admitted he left the scene and broke down sobbing.
"He said he hoped God would forgive him for this man losing his life," Sala said. "In viewing the video it was evident that his reaction was spontaneous and genuine."
Tracking down the defendant
Alvarez-Solis' truck was found a week after the crash. Police reports say he drove home the night of the crash and told no one what had happened, and he later tried to blot out signs of the impact, cleaning the vehicle and throwing away the windshield where Weaver hit.
He took the truck to a repair shop and said gang members had vandalized it, according to the reports. With the truck in the shop, Alvarez-Solis offered to sell the pickup to a co-worker for a "good price."
A former employee of the repair shop called police March 12 to report a suspicious vehicle was at the shop, the reports say. Police matched a paint chip and broken antenna found at the scene of the crash to the pickup.
A crime lab technician also found what looked like blood and hair near where the windshield was removed, the reports say.