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A 77-year-old Santa Rosa grandmother was sentenced Tuesday to more than seven years in prison for driving under a combination of alcohol and prescription medication, killing one Oakmont woman and injuring a second.

Gayle Gray, who had two previous drunken driving convictions, was sentenced for her role in the death of Jackie Simon, 85, and serious injury to Josephine Ross, 91.

The two women were struck by Gray’s car outside an Oakmont market on Jan. 20. Gray told police she mistakenly stepped on the accelerator rather than brake as she pulled out of a parking lot.

“You ran over two people who were walking on the sidewalk. I don’t know if it could get much worse,” said Sonoma County Judge Jamie Thistlethwaite, who denied probation and sentenced the defendant to seven years and four months in prison.

“It kills and injures someone. There has to be consequences,” Thistlethwaite said of Gray’s third drunk driving conviction. “It does send a message to society. It’s something I consider as a judge.”

Gray, who had been out on bail after initially being held two days in jail, was immediately handcuffed and taken into custody.

With good behavior, she could be out of prison after serving 85 percent of her sentence, or slightly more than six years.

She also was ordered to pay more than $300,000 in restitution, mainly for the medical bills incurred by Ross.

Gray, dressed in a black pant suit, did not address the court. She smiled briefly at her son, daughter and two other relatives just before court got underway Tuesday.

Gray’s attorney, Steve Gallenson, argued against a prison term describing it as “probably a death sentence” for the retired real estate agent, given her advanced age and health. He said his client has been remorseful from the beginning and there also were indications from a medical scan she may have suffered a stroke the day of the accident.

“I don’t think it’s necessary to send her to prison to protect the community,” he said, suggesting a local jail sentence with probation was more appropriate.

But Prosecutor Tashawn Sanders said Gray went through residential treatment after a previous DUI, which should have put her on notice of the consequences of drinking and driving.

She had two misdemeanor drunken driving convictions in 1994 and 2003, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

“She was well aware of the impact alcohol can have and the danger it can cause,” Sanders said.

She said Gray initially told police she had not had anything to drink that morning, but later said she had two glasses of wine before driving to the store about a mile and a half away to buy more wine.

“It’s not a mistake,” Sanders said. “It was a deadly choice.”

Simon and Ross, who lived in the Oakmont Gardens retirement community, were on a sidewalk outside nearby Oakmont Village Market when they were struck by Gray’s car. The impact threw the pair onto the hood of Gray’s 1994 Lexus and carried them up to 20 feet before they fell onto the asphalt.

Gray blamed the accident on a combination of prescribed medication she was taking and the wine she consumed. She said her Jack Russell Terrier, which was in the front seat, also jumped onto her lap and distracted her.

Her blood-alcohol level three hours after the crash was 0.05, slightly less than the legal limit of 0.08.

Simon never regained consciousness and died six days later, according to her family.

Ross, the surviving victim, spoke to the court flanked by her daughters, son and other family members.

“Mrs. Gray’s actions have dramatically altered the quality of my life in ways that will never improve,” she said. “She deserves to be punished for what she’s done with a long sentence in state prison.”

She called it “the most horrible experience of my life. I suffered extreme pain.”

Ross’ ankle was shattered, requiring implanted metal plates. She also had broken bones in her back and suffered a serious concussion.

She spent five days in the hospital and more than a month in a skilled nursing facility.

Ross had lived independently before, but said she now requires a 24-hour caregiver, has problems with short-term memory and uses a walker to get around.

That was in stark contrast to the way her family said she was prior to her injuries – a healthy, 91-year-old woman who exercised regularly, read avidly, played bridge, and attended concerts and classes.

Ross said she also lost her best friend ­— Simon — whom she had known for 20 years.

Relatives of both victims urged the judge to impose a significant prison term.

Both the probation department and the prosecutor sought a slightly longer sentence of eight years, but the judge took into account that Gray pleaded no contest early on to charges of felony vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.

Following the sentence, Simon’s son, Steve Friedman, was asked if he was satisfied with the court outcome.

“It isn’t about being satisfied, “ he responded. “The impact of all of this is awful. I feel for her family, for us. It’s so sad it had to happen. I think the judge expressed the issue very nicely and I respect that a lot.”

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter@clarkma


Editor's Note: The name of Jackie Simon, one of the victims in the crash, was misspelled in a previous version of this story, The error has been corrected in the story above.

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