Woman avoids jail time in crash that killed Hanford teen

Kate Nemarich Image
Friday, September 1, 2023
Woman avoids jail time in crash that killed Hanford teen
A plea deal was reached in a deadly March 2022 crash that killed a Hanford teen, allowing the driver to avoid jail time.

FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- A plea deal was reached in a deadly March 2022 crash that killed a Hanford teen, allowing the driver to avoid jail time. It's a deal the judge says is appropriate, but the victim's family feels isn't enough.

"As long as I'm here on this earth I will keep my daughter's memory alive and that's something you'll never be able to take from us," said Rocky Cardona, Marissa's Dad.

Sniffles and quiet tears broke up the statements made in court Thursday morning by Marissa Cardona's loved ones.

"The bright light she was is no longer here," said Jeanette Rodriguez, Marissa's family member. "It was taken too soon. It was not her time."

"Every t-shirt, every sticker shows that's she's still alive. In our hearts she's still alive," said Jeannie Ochoa, Marissa's Grandmother.

Wearing matching t-shirts, they waited for a sentence to be handed down nearly a year and half after the 14-year-old was killed in a car crash.

"On March 5, 2022, our family's lives changed forever," said Rocky Cardona.

That Saturday, Marissa was headed to do something she loved -- play softball -- the teen played second base for the Dirt Dogs travel softball organization, as well as for her Hanford West High School team. That morning Marissa and her mom, Leticia Cardona, were driving to Clovis for a softball tournament with her high school team.

RELATED: 14-year-old girl killed, 3 others injured in rollover crash in Fresno County

When the pair reached the intersection of Mount Whitney Avenue and Cedar Avenue in Fresno County, they were hit. Ashley Engen was behind the wheel, California Highway Patrol says she was driving 76 miles per hour and didn't attempt to stop at the stop sign. Marissa died at the scene, her mother Leticia is still recovering from her life-changing injuries.

"I can't even drive my kids to school," said Leticia Cardona. "All the things I used to do, I can't do anymore and I don't have my daughter so my life is never going to be the same."

RELATED: Hanford West Softball remembers Marissa Cardona

On Thursday, Engen gave her own tearful statement before her sentence was read.

"I struggle every single day mentally and physically knowing that I was the reason a bright, loving, amazing young woman was taken so early in her life," said Engen.

Ultimately Engen pleaded no contest and was sentenced with misdemeanor manslaughter without gross negligence, she won't spend any time in jail for the crash.

"That nothing this court does today will be sufficient," said Hon. Stephanie Negin, Fresno County Superior Court. "That's because I cannot make the Cardonas whole."

Instead, Engen will need to do 360 hours of community service, pay restitution to the Cardona family, and fines to the court. In the eyes of the Cardona's, it's not enough.

"Even knowing that she wasn't going to get any time or just a slap on the wrist, you know," said Rocky Cardona. "Basically not taking responsibility. We all know what a no-contest plea is."

The courts still need to determine how much Engen owes in restitution to the Cardona family. According to their lawyer, the medical bills are already more than a million and climbing as Leticia Cardona continues treatment. The family also filed a civil lawsuit against the county and Engen.

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