Sebastopol man sentenced to 8 years in prison in DUI crash that killed 1, maimed another
Eric McDonell balanced on his right leg Tuesday as he dislodged the prosthesis from its place just below his left knee. Peeling off the liner and sock, he bared the stump of scarred flesh underneath.
“I don’t have a leg anymore because of you," the 13-year-old said, projecting his voice over the weeping from others in the courtroom as he displayed what was left of his leg to the man responsible for maiming him.
Ulises Valdez Jr., who pleaded guilty in March to driving drunk and hitting two bicyclists, one fatally, looked at the boy with eyes rimmed red from crying, before turning back to the front of the courtroom.
Minutes later, Sonoma County Judge Mark Urioste sentenced Valdez to more than eight years in prison for causing the May 12, 2021, crash that injured McDonell and killed another bicyclist, 53-year-old Mark Osborne.
Loved ones of McDonell and Osborne filled the courtroom Tuesday morning, forcing the bailiff to open the usually blocked front row of seats to accommodate them.
Some attendees wore black shirts emblazoned with, “Justice for Eric & Mark,” on the front, and on the back, “No light sentencing for Ulises Valdez Jr.”
“To describe our situation as living our worst nightmare is an understatement. You can awake from a nightmare – not this,” John Osborne, the slain bicyclist’s father, wrote in a letter read aloud by courtroom staff.
“We are still enduring our trial, but are already serving our sentence.”
The Osborne family listened in to the proceedings over Zoom from their home in Australia.
After an hour of statements from the victims’ families requesting the court impose the maximum punishment, Urioste handed down the sentence.
“I share in their grief, because this is completely avoidable,” Urioste told Valdez.
The crimes “affected so many lives other than the victims and yourself, including your own family I can see in the courtroom in their own personal grief.”
Osborne, a Santa Rosa transplant and avid outdoorsman, died in the hospital from his injuries a week after Valdez plowed into him while he was riding his bike on the shoulder of High School Road near Sebastopol.
California Highway Patrol said Valdez, whose late father founded the Sebastopol-based company Valdez Family Winery, was driving his Ram Rebel pickup with a blood alcohol content of 0.15%, nearly double the legal limit.
“When Ulises took Mark’s life, he destroyed half of mine,” Tracy Hinman, Osborne’s partner, told the court.
McDonell’s family recounted how the crash, which occurred in front of their home, changed their lives forever.
Eternity McDonell, 17, called her brother “a force of nature” and “incandescently alive” before the crash.
“You stole that from him,” she said to Valdez. ”You stole that innocence from him.“
The boy, 12 years old at the time of the collision, had been an active athlete, playing multiple sports with hopes of becoming a professional football player or wrestler.
Now, his mom, Lisa McDonell, said, their weekly ritual was a litany of doctors’ appointments instead of practice.
Like the scars crawling up McDonell’s leg from the 15 surgeries he endured, the incident left lasting psychological damage.
“People look at me like I’m a freak,” the boy told Valdez. “May God forgive you, because I do not.”
Valdez wept as he listened to the statements, while members of his family sat behind him in the gallery, also crying quietly. When it was his time to talk during the defense’s response, he rose and addressed the courtroom — his voice muffled by emotion.
“I am sorry to all who have been affected by this tragedy. I take full responsibility,” he read from a wrinkled piece of paper. “To the Osborne family, I’m sorry for taking Mark away from you. ... To Eric and his family, I’m sorry I have forever changed your lives.”
Valdez’s attorney, Steve Gallenson, asked Urioste to consider his client’s remorse, as well as his lack of prior criminal convictions and his mental trauma following the death of his father.
“I understand the victims want the maximum sentence,“ Gallenson said. ”But sentencing encompasses more than retribution.”
The outcome will hopefully send a message to the broader community that drunken driving will not be taken lightly, said Eris Weaver, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, in the hallway of the Hall of Justice.
McDonell’s mother said while they hoped Valdez would receive more prison time, “It’s something.”
You can reach Staff Writer Emily Wilder at 707-521-5337 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @vv1lder.
Criminal justice and public safety, The Press Democrat
Criminal justice is one of the most stirring and consequential systems, both in the North Bay and nationwide. Crime, policing, prosecution and incarceration have ripples that reach many parts of our lives, and these issues are under increasingly powerful microscopes. My goal is to uncover untold stories and understand the unique impacts of criminal justice and public safety on Sonoma County.