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Driver who caused Petaluma crash that killed Bodega Bay biologist sentenced to 1 month in jail

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The driver who caused a six-car crash in 2018 that killed a prominent marine biologist from Bodega Bay was sentenced Friday to one month in county jail.

The sentence comes after Javier Rodriguez-Lopez, 21, of Pittsburg in Contra Costa County, pleaded no contest in February to misdemeanor charges of vehicular manslaughter and driving without a license, the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office said in a news release. He had faced a maximum punishment of one year in county jail.

The charges stem from an early morning crash April 24, 2018, that killed Susan Williams, 66, and sent Rodriguez-Lopez and two others to the hospital. Rodriguez- Lopez, then 19, was driving along Lakeville Highway in Petaluma, near South McDowell Boulevard, when his Chevy Silverado crossed double yellow lines and veered into oncoming traffic, the news release said. Rodriguez-Lopez collided head-on with Williams’ Toyota Prius and a Honda Accord. Three other cars got caught in the wreckage as well.

Investigators later learned that Rodriguez-Lopez had been speeding and had fallen asleep at the wheel, the news release said. They also discovered that he didn’t have a valid driver’s license. He told Petaluma police officers that he had failed a driver’s test in 2017 but still drove, occasionally taking turns behind the wheel with his father as they drove to and from work.

Williams was a decorated biologist and served for many years as the director of the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory in Bodega Bay. She was a distinguished professor at the UC Davis Department of Evolution and Ecology, and was on her way to teach a class at the campus when she was killed in the crash. She was a key advisor to California lawmakers who were working to protect coastal waters from oil and gas development.

In addition to his jail time, Rodriguez-Lopez was sentenced to spend three years on probation, the news release said. He was also ordered to complete 200 hours of community service involving either marine sciences education or by speaking to young drivers in high schools about the dangers of driving while tired and fatigued.

You can reach Staff Writer Chantelle Lee at 707-521-5337 or chantelle.lee@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ChantelleHLee.

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