CRESCENT CITY – Walter A. Reyes, of Brookings, was sentenced to 145 days in jail, 1,000 hours of community service for killing a pedestrian while driving and texting at the same time.
Local fisherman Rodger Farren was killed while attempting to cross U.S. Highway 101.
Reyes will spend his community service hours talking to teenagers about the dangers of texting while driving. This could also include staging a mock trial for high-schoolers in which Reyes would take the stand for questioning and attorneys would present their arguments and forensic evidence.
Reyes, 20, will also be on probation for three years and pay $8,856 dollars to Farren’s widow for medical costs stemming from the accident.
Reyes was driving south near Mouth of the Smith River Road when he struck Farren last December. Reyes denied using his cell phone while driving at the time, but later told the California Highway Patrol that he was texting.
He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of vehicular manslaughter, making a plea deal from the Del Norte County District Attorney’s Office.
In court Thursday, DA Jon Alexander said he and Farren’s widow, Cindy Farren, didn’t want to “hamstring” Reyes, who has otherwise “led a decent life,” with a felony conviction. Reyes had shown sincerity by admitting to the CHP that he was texting and caused the accident, killing Farren, Alexander said. He offered a misdemeanor conviction and 1,000 hours of community service, letting the judge decide if jail time was necessary.
However, in a statement to the county Probation Department, Reyes stated he had ceased texting 30 seconds prior to striking Farren, Alexander said in court. The DA called Reyes’ statement “shocking and reprehensible.”
Alexander said he was now asking that Reyes serve 180 days in jail plus 1,000 hours of community service. Judge William Follet decided on 145 days in jail.
With jail time and community service hours, Reyes is serving the equivalent of two years, Alexander said.
“If you are texting and you are driving, be prepared because we are going to take it seriously,” the DA said.
Reyes addressed the court, saying he was sorry for making the statement and admitting to using his phone, causing the accident.
He then spoke to Cindy Farren from his seat at the defense table.
“Please forgive me,” he said to the widow, who was visibly upset.
A letter from Cindy Farren was read on her behalf by Rhonda Steel, a Victim Witness advocate.
The letter stated Reyes was to blame for the accident, but her husband also wasn’t paying attention when he crossed the highway that night.
She wrote that Reyes should pay for his mistake and her husband would agree, but he also would have said, “Sitting in a jail cell will not teach him anything.”
Reyes will have to live his life knowing he caused the death of another human being, Cindy Farren wrote.
“You cost me my friend and husband,” she said.
Instead of a lengthy jail sentence, Farren asked that Reyes speak with teens in Crescent City and Brookings about how dangerous texting while driving can be so that it may prevent a young driver from making the same mistake. She also asked that he volunteer with the local Transition Age Youth (TAY) program for young people ages 16-25 with mental health issues to learn social and living skills and find employment.
Follet noted he had read 200 letters of support for Reyes, and said he is a “kind,” “hard-working” and “honest” young man.
“It’s difficult to balance the punishment,” Follet said.
In his career as a judge, 1,000 hours of community service is more than he’s ever issued, Follet said.
Jail time is also appropriate, the judge said, but Reyes needs to work in order to pay off the restitution. Reyes can serve his jail time on the weekends.