Emotional sentencing for drunk driver who killed two in Clovis

October 12, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
An outpouring of emotions led to a moment of forgiveness in court Friday as a judge sent a drunk driver to prison for killing two people.

Keith Smith and Jessica Matthes died in the crash last November.

Friday, their families vented and their killer apologized.

The emotions were pretty overwhelming in court. Tears flowed from the family members, attorneys, inmates, and eventually, from the defendant, Larry Frank Garcia.

In the end, those tears may have kick-started the healing process.

In the hallways outside of court, a simple hug united two sides of the same tragedy.

The families of Keith Smith and Jessica Matthes reached out to the family of Larry Frank Garcia -- the man who drove drunk and killed the crash.

A judge had just sentenced Garcia to prison and the hugs may never have happened before he publicly apologized.

"I just want to say I'm sorry to the victims' families and friends for what happened," Garcia said. "I take full responsibility for what happened. There isn't a day that has gone by that I didn't wish it was me."

Smith's family wore t-shirts to honor the man many knew as "Bubba," a former Marine killed on the streets of Clovis at Barstow and Minnewawa -- by a fellow former Marine who ran a red light.

He left behind three children -- including a daughter who says, 11 months later, she still lives with the pain she felt on the day she answered the phone and found out her dad was killed.

"I walked into the living room and fell to my knees," said Melissa Smith. "My mom thought something had happened to my boyfriend."

Matthes' sister Jennifer also got a shocking call from the coroner's office.

"I didn't believe the lady," she said. "I actually hung up and I googled the Fresno County coroner's office and got their phone number and called them back. Unfortunately, the same lady answered."

Before the accident, Smith and Matthes were building a life together and had just bought a house.

Jessica's father didn't want to relive the emotions of her death by coming to the sentencing, but his wife Susan read the last text he received from his daughter.

"I know you don't text, but thank you," Jessica wrote to her father, Ron. "Thank you for loving me. Thank you for being supportive about this house. Thank you for making suggestions. Thank you for being my father."

The victims' family members say they're hoping the laws will change so drunk drivers who kill people will stay in prison longer.

Garcia got 12 years -- the maximum sentence for two counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while drunk.


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