"It's been a complete nightmare," said Jeffrey Sanchez. "It's been very stressful, not only for myself, but for my family and friends. It's been draining." Fresno County sheriff's deputies arrested him last December, but Thursday, he's in the clear.
When Sanchez hugged his mother outside the Fresno County courthouse, it was their first embrace in ten months without a dark cloud hovering over them. The 37-year-old has faced a rape charge since a December encounter with a 19-year-old woman he met at a bar. But Thursday, prosecutors dropped the charges.
"I'm feeling relieved that the court system got it right," Sanchez said. "I'm looking forward to moving on with my life and being a positive member of society."
From the beginning, Sanchez said the sexual contact was consensual and he had never betrayed his uniform. But the woman told detectives, after drinking some alcohol and smoking some marijuana, she felt like she lost control of her body and was powerless to stop Sanchez.
Toxicology reports showed she was never given any date rape drug, though. "We provided much of that information to the district attorney's office and ultimately, they agreed with our conclusion that the case should be dismissed," said Jeff Hammerschmidt, the defense attorney for Sanchez.
Many Fresno firefighters stood by Sanchez as he struggled to prove his innocence, and several of them celebrated with him Thursday. But it was his mother, Cathy Sanchez, who was always there. She was there to pick him up when he bailed out of jail in December, and she was there when, as she put it, the truth finally came out.
As a woman, she says she feels sorry for the accuser.
As a mother, she knows how it hurt her son. "You forgive, but you never really forget," Cathy Sanchez said.
The fire department put Sanchez on leave when he was arrested, but he transitioned back to work, although he was never allowed to answer fire calls. Now, he hopes he can really get back to work. "I know it's going to be hard for some people, but I know my heart and I know what kind of person I am," he said. "And I'm looking forward to moving on with my life."
A life that's now far less complicated.