‘We’re trying not to make it about him’: Family of Windsor mom killed by repeat DUI driver ready for sentencing
Rosa Lua was the third of four children. The fun one. The sometimes carefree one. The one who loved birthdays, holidays and creating elaborate decorations and costumes.
A successful environmental sustainability expert, she bungee jumped, skydived, surfed and even tried the trapeze. She also wanted children. That she was single and older didn’t matter. In July 2015, after weathering a difficult pregnancy at age 42, Lua gave birth to twins Zara and Zane, who became her life’s joy.
“When she had these babies, it was a big deal. And for them – (for their mother) to be taken away…,” Lua’s older sister, Elena Elliot said Monday, her voice trailing off.
On March 20, 2019, as her twins neared their fourth birthday, Lua was killed by Fernando Leon-Aguilera, a drunken driver, who had been convicted twice before of DUI.
Convicted in July of killing Lua, Leon-Aguilera will be sentenced Tuesday in Sonoma County Superior Court. Facing 15 years to life, he will turn 34 next month.
Leon-Aguilera was driving over 100 mph in his Ford Fusion when he crashed into the back of Lua’s Honda Civic, causing it to flip. The overturned Honda hit a fence and tree before it came to a stop on the road’s shoulder.
Lua was pronounced dead at the scene.
Her relatives said Tuesday’s hearing has been a long time coming. They believe the entire criminal justice process – from the night of the wreck to the jury verdict – has been about Leon-Aguilera: his driving 100 mph at 11 p.m. on Highway 101, his blood-alcohol content of 0.156 — nearly twice the legal limit — his prior DUI convictions.
Finally, Elliott said, this day will be about her sister.
“We’re working through our anger,” the Windsor resident said of herself and the rest of Lua’s relatives. “We’re trying not to make it about him.”
The horrific crash left the children suddenly orphaned at an age too young to comprehend that Mommy is never coming home.
It also thrust Lua’s family into spasms of shock, grief, anger and fear. They’ve had to adapt to an entirely new family dynamic as three generations do their part to heal while looking after Zane and Zara.
“I told her if you want to be a mom, science is wonderful these days. Even if you don’t have Mr. Perfect, you can figure it out,” Elliot said she told her sister before she got pregnant. “And she did. We told her, ‘We will be your village.’”
A family speaks
By law, those affected by crimes are allowed to give victim impact statements to the court. Leon-Aguilera will be present as a video summarizing Lua’s life plays and at least four family members will tell him, and the rest of the world, what Lua meant to them and what trauma his actions have unleashed on an extended family that stretches from Windsor to San Francisco to Piedmont in the East Bay.
Elliott, their brother Carlos, Lua’s niece and her goddaughter may make statements to be heard by the sentencing judge.
They will tell the court about Lua as a child, how she tested her mother by always asking why and questioning authority. They’ll share how she was born in Placerville and grew up in Sonoma County, graduating in 1991 from El Molino High School. She then earned a psychology degree from UCLA.
She loved to be creative, whether cooking, sewing, baking, making soaps or decorating cookies, her sister said.
Lua adored holidays and was the chief decorator and costumer for family parties. Some of her favorite photos were those of her kids in elaborate Halloween costumes or Christmas outfits. When she was pregnant, Elliott wrote S and P on her sister’s belly for “salt” and “pepper,” which the kids were for their first Halloween.
“We miss her crazy,” Elliott said.
‘It’s catch and release’
The night she was killed, Lua had been doing laundry and decorating Easter cookies with her kids at her mother’s house in Windsor.
“She was folding a pink shirt,” Elliott said. “I said, ‘Don’t stay up too late, just put Zane and Zara to bed and get going.’ She yearned for those kids. People said she was crazy, but she said ‘I’m going to prove to the world that I can do it.’”
Elliott said she will not lash out at Leon-Aguilera during the sentencing hearing, though she said she hopes he is remorseful. She’s just as angry at society and the criminal justice system that allowed a two-time drunken driver to remain on the roads.
“When I first was told about his history, I was in disbelief,” she said. “How could someone with two DUIs be driving with a valid driver’s license? They let you go through the system until you hurt someone.
“It’s catch and release. I don’t think anyone is looking at the system as a whole. Something tragic has to happen to look at the system.”