Drug-addled driver faces increased punishment in man's death

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The drug-addled driver who killed a beloved Community Regional Medical Center radiology technician is accepting blame for her crimes, but still hoping for mercy.

Roberta Soto, 46, has pleaded guilty to manslaughter, auto theft and other charges. Soto is basically throwing herself at the mercy of the court. She admitted to all the crimes, including killing Matt Harkenrider by driving under the influence of meth. But she still has a chance of not getting the maximum punishment.

For Roberta Soto, a dayslong drug binge and crime spree ended in Northeast Fresno inside a wrecked SUV -- a bag of meth still in her hand and a stolen purse in the back seat floorboard. Soto was still alive, but after she ran a red light and hit a car, Matt Harkenrider was not. Seven months later, Soto faced a judge and said she's ready to pay the price.

"Ms. Soto is extremely remorseful,' said her defense attorney Alan DeOcampo. "She's accepted responsibility for this terrible ordeal and so we're hoping there'll be a just and fair closure for all parties in this case."

Soto set the tragic events in motion when she stole that purse from a Selma hair salon. Action News found a nearby business owner who had surveillance video showing Soto carrying the purse and tracking down the SUV, then driving away with it. Two days later, it was the stolen SUV she drove into Harkenrider's car. Her defense attorney is hoping a judge will consider her quick admission, her remorse, and her personal problems when he hands down a punishment.

"There clearly is a substance abuse issue in this case and we're hoping that issue will also hopefully cause the court to maybe show some mercy on Ms. Soto," DeOcampo said.

Harkenrider's family has gotten a lot of love and support from his friends at the hospital and up at Yosemite High School, but Soto's punishment will be their first chance to let her know the true impact of her crime.

A fill-in judge agreed to give Soto a nine-year prison sentence, but the regular judge decided that wasn't enough and said Friday he'll give her as long as 13 years, which is close to the maximum she can get for her crimes. We'll let you know the final outcome next week.

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