Runner to push harsher terms for drunk drivers who take lives

first_imgLANCASTER – Assemblywoman Sharon Runner called Friday for a reform of drunk driving laws in response to a one-year jail sentence offered to a suspected drunk driver charged in a crash that killed a baby girl. Prompted by a Daily News report about the July 16 death of 7-month-old Natalie Nicole Ceja, Runner said she found it appalling that the driver might spend a “few mere months” in jail for taking a child’s life. “It’s time for our state to take back its roads and say drinking and driving will not be tolerated,” Runner, R-Lancaster, said at a news conference. “It is, to me, one of the most outrageous crimes that can be stopped. All you have to do is stop drinking and driving.” Natalie’s parents, Manuel and Jessyka Ceja, both 22 and from Sylmar, were present at the conference along with about 10 family members, including all the baby’s grandparents. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week Some relatives wore T-shirts that said, “In Loving Memory of Natalie Nicole Ceja” with the dates of her birth and her death printed beneath her photograph. “We started on a bumpy road. We are getting through to somebody. We are trying to change things,” said Jessyka Ceja, a bank employee. “We feel like everything we are doing is not in vain. We will fight until it’s over, until we get what we want or until we feel it’s the right punishment for him.” “I’m pleased to see our case has touched so many people, especially in the Legislature. I just hope it’s going to make some changes,” said Manuel Ceja, who graduated in June from California State University, Northridge, with a degree in criminal justice and works at his family’s body shop in Van Nuys. Runner said she will propose legislation in January that will impose harsher penalties on drunk drivers who kill someone in their first drunk-driving arrest. She said people know that when they drink and drive they are likely to kill, yet the laws do not conform with this knowledge. “If there is someone killed in an accident, they should be punished as if it was their second accident,” Runner said. California Highway Patrol Sgt. Tom Lackey said legislation is needed to show that the state takes drunk driving crimes seriously. “It’s very sad that our state has not taken the position that being drunk is not in itself gross negligence,” Lackey said. Eric Boden, 27, of Palmdale, whose blood-alcohol level was later tested at .13 percent, was talking on a cell phone when his Ford Ranger pickup truck rear-ended the Cejas’ Honda Accord as the couple pulled over to let a fire engine pass on Pearblossom Highway. Natalie was strapped into a child-safety seat in the back seat when the crash occurred. Her parents had been taking her to see friends in the Antelope Valley and deliver an invitation to her baptism. Boden, who is free on $100,000 bail, has pleaded not guilty to gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and driving under the influence, causing injury. If he is convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison. Prosecutors offered the one-year jail sentence and five years probation, citing Boden’s lack of a record, his blood-alcohol level, which was above California’s .08 legal limit, and the difficulty of proving Boden acted in a grossly negligent manner. Deputy District Attorney John Evans, who represented the District Attorney’s Office at the news conference, said he could not speak about specific facts of the case, but talked generally about drunk driving laws. “In any kind of case like this, when someone is inebriated and kills someone, the laws are written that with no prior (conviction) or anything you could point to about their prior knowledge, the law presumes that these people are ignorant of the fact that if you drive under the influence, you could kill someone,” Evans said. “The tragedy of all this is that the laws don’t change to reflect reality of life until a child is killed. That is pathetic,” Evans said. Evans added that prosecutors can craft a case settlement to ensure a defendant serves the entire year in jail and will not be released early because of jail crowding. Jessyka Ceja said the family was expecting Boden to at least get the minimum sentence of four years in prison. She said they are not asking for life in prison or the death penalty, but for the defendant “to feel something, feel some remorse.” She said Natalie was a happy baby who slept through the night and awakened her parents by scratching her mattress or kicking her legs. “She loved people. She enjoyed being around people. She hardly ever cried. To me, she was the perfect baby,” Jessyka Ceja said. Natalie was the first granddaughter on Manuel’s side of the family, and the first grandchild on Jessyka’s side. Mothers Against Drunk Driving records show that that California lost more than 1,600 lives to alcohol-related crashes in 2004, and alcohol-related crashes account for 40 percent of all traffic fatalities in the state, Runner said. Karen Maeshiro, (661) 267-5744 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more