Drunken driver who killed Penngrove mini horses gets jail time

An Oakland man who mowed down two miniature horses during a drunken tear through Penngrove last year has been sentenced to up to 150 days in Sonoma County Jail and given four years probation.

Ronald O. Rennert, 40, pleaded guilty earlier this year to misdemeanor drunken driving and hit and run in a case that provoked outrage among animal lovers around the region. His probation terms include orders he refrain from drinking for four years and pay $7,825 in restitution.

But that’s unlikely to assuage the grief of horse owner Juanita Carrillo, whose two beloved companions were deemed mere property under California law. Though aware of the legal constraints under which county court officials were operating, she said she still wishes Rennert had been dealt with more severely.

“He brutally killed these horses and took off,” said Carrillo, 59. “Didn’t assist. Didn’t do anything. He just took off.”

Carrillo was asleep in her rural Minnesota Avenue home as the bars were closing early on the morning of April 15 when she was awakened by the sound of someone crashing into the fenced area of her front yard, where her two mini horses were corralled.

The toll of the crash was devastating: Both of her beloved pets were severely injured and eventually would be euthanized by an on-call veterinarian. The driver had sped off.

Rennert, 40, might never have been identified in the case had he not been arrested for drunken driving a short time later on southbound Highway 101 near Petaluma. His Honda CRV had front-end damage and tufts of animal fur were stuck to the metal, authorities said. Car parts found in the horse corral matched the CRV.

But Rennert, in an interview soon afterward, said he remembered nothing of that morning, not even getting into his car after leaving the bar.

He was charged last May with drunken driving and hit and run, both misdemeanors.

It wasn’t until Jan. 8 that he admitted guilt in the case. Rennert sought out and completed a private chemical dependency program on his own and reported volunteering for and fundraising for a nonprofit miniature horse rescue organization called Angels for Minis, according to court records.

He was eligible to serve as much as a year in county jail, Deputy District Attorney Scott Uemura said.

On Thursday, Judge Julie Conger sentenced Rennert to 90 days of jail time - 45 days if his behavior is good - plus another 60 days in jail or on work release, Uemura said.

He also will serve four years of formal probation during which he will be subject to testing to make sure he refrains from drinking alcohol. During the first 30 days he’ll wear what’s called an “alcohol bracelet” that can sense from his sweat whether he has ingested alcohol, prosecutors said.

District Attorney Jill Ravitch acknowledged the limitations and challenges of prosecuting a case in which there is no evidence Rennert purposely targeted or injured the animals, despite the obvious grief their deaths caused. “We are very diligent in our prosecution of cases involving injury or abuse of animals,” she said.

Uemura said those factors, the heightened public interest and “the totality of the circumstances” resulted in a sentence that included jail time.

“It was certainly not a run-of-the-mill DUI case,” he said.

Carrillo says she forever will be haunted by the violent loss of her horses, and the pain they suffered in their final moments of life. She’s glad to have the criminal case concluded, and grateful for animal lovers who supported her at court proceedings. They included the founder/director of a Walnut Creek-based nonprofit called Voices for Pets, and Rennert’s own father and step-mother, who sat with Carrillo during the sentencing.

She said Rennert was given a chance to apologize during the proceedings, but it left her “cold.”?“I’m happy with the outcome, I guess,” she said. “It could have been a little stricter.”

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

Mary Callahan

Environment and Climate Change, The Press Democrat

I am in awe of the breathtaking nature here in Sonoma County and am so grateful to live in this spectacular region we call home. I am amazed, too, by the expertise in our community and by the commitment to protecting the land, its waterways, its wildlife and its residents. My goal is to improve understanding of the issues, to find hope and to help all of us navigate the future of our environment. 

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