Even before her dad was killed by a drunken driver, Patricia Stryka knew the heartbreak of being a fatherless child.
The longtime teacher’s aide had heard stories from countless children over the years who were missing their dads for a variety of reasons, including divorce, death and incarceration.
So when her own father, 81-year-old Earnest Slone, was killed last spring by a drunken driver, Stryka couldn’t help thinking about what would happen to the driver’s children.
The driver, Enrique Sanabria-Ruiz, 47, has two kids, ages 6 and 14. Aside from the fatal accident, he’s a hard-working family man with no criminal record, his lawyer said.
“I miss my dad,” a tearful Stryka told Judge Shelly Averill on Monday. “And I’m sure these children miss theirs.”
The judge took her words to heart, sentencing Sanabria-Ruiz to a year in jail and five years’ probation rather than the maximum eight years in prison.
Ruiz, who has spent the past six months in jail, cried as Stryka spoke.
“Quite frankly, I’m not sure the outcome would be the same except for her statements,” Averill said from the bench.
Slone, a Santa Rosa resident, was standing outside his 1969 Cadillac on Occidental Road on May 13 when he was hit by Sanabria-Ruiz, who was driving by in a pickup. Slone died of his injuries shortly after.
Sanabria-Ruiz turned his truck around, parked behind the Cadillac and waited for police to arrive. He was arrested on charges of drunken driving and felony vehicular manslaughter with enhancements for an elderly victim.
His blood-alcohol content at the time of the crash was estimated at about .10 percent, just over the legal limit to drive a car.
His lawyer, Ben Adams, said Slone was hit by an extended mirror on the Chevy pickup. Adams said Sanabria-Ruiz felt so bad about what happened, he refused to make bail. He also cooperated with the insurance company to make sure the family got everything they were entitled to, Adams said.
“He’s a good man. He made a horrible mistake,” Adams said.
Averill agreed Sanabria-Ruiz seemed worthy of leniency.
She said she was most moved by the compassion of the victim’s daughter. She told Sanabria-Ruiz she was granting her request, “letting you be there for your children.”
You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @ppayne.