An elderly Oakmont woman who earlier this year drove her car into two pedestrians, killing one of them, faces a possible prison term after pleading no contest Wednesday to felony vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, and driving under the influence of a combination of drugs and alcohol.
Gayle Gray, 77, could get up to nine years, eight months behind bars when she is sentenced by Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Jamie Thistlethwaite on June 21.
The retired real estate broker appeared in court for a preliminary hearing in the Jan. 20 crash at the Santa Rosa retirement community that killed Jackie Simon, 85, and injured Josephine Ross, 91.
Instead, she settled the case, pleading as charged. Gray said outside court she decided not to fight the allegations out of sympathy for the victims’ relatives.
“I’m just totally upset and sad for the families,” Gray said in a brief interview as she sat in the hall, an alcohol-monitor device strapped to her ankle.
She remains free on bail.
Prosecutors made no offer of leniency but the judge found Gray acted without willfulness or the intent to harm, leaving open the possibility of probation.
However, Thistlethwaite cautioned she made no promises and would decide an appropriate punishment after considering arguments from both sides.
“This was a totally avoidable situation but you had no specific intent to hurt anybody,” the judge said from the bench.
Victims’ family members declined to comment as they left the courtroom. It was unclear if they were planning a civil lawsuit.
Gray’s lawyer, Steve Gallenson, called the crash an accident with some evidence of impairment. He said hoped the judge would take into account Gray’s age and health.
The crash happened the afternoon of Jan. 20 outside Oakmont Village Market. Simon and Ross were on the sidewalk after leaving a dry cleaner as Gray was driving out of the parking lot.
Gray told police she saw the two women and tried to step on her brakes but hit the accelerator instead. The pair were thrown onto the hood of her 1994 Lexus and carried up to 20 feet before falling onto the asphalt.
Gray continued driving across four lanes of traffic and a median. She struck a dirt berm and came to a stop.
Simon later died and Ross was seriously injured.
Testing found Gray had a blood-alcohol level of .05 percent, under the legal limit to drive, but also had prescription medications in her system such as antidepressants.
She also told police she was distracted by her Jack Russell terrier sitting on her lap. She has a drunken-driving conviction from 2002, officers said.
Outside court Wednesday, family members said Gray has given up driving. The Sonoma County resident since 1973 “feels horrible” about what happened and wanted the victims’ family members to “have peace,” said her son, Scott Gray.
“We were taught to take responsibility for our actions,” her son said. “Today she took responsibility for hers.”
It was the latest incident involving cars and the elderly at Oakmont.
Three years ago, Harry E. Smith, then 82, was sentenced to five years in a secure facility for dementia treatment after he chased a cyclist in his car onto the golf course and rammed him, causing serious injury.