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Utah driver sentenced to prison for killing woman on sidewalk

Published February 27, 2014 12:59 pm

Courts • Ramiro Serrano Hernandez pleaded guilty to second-degree felony automobile homicide.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Provo • Had he stepped out of his Orem home a minute sooner, Nicholas Glanville would have been in the path of the drunken driver who killed his wife.

Instead, he made it just in time to hear Ashlee Zimmer's last moments alive: The vroom of an engine, the crush of metal on metal, wheels screeching, a scream.

"The horror of it to find my Ashlee torn, bloodied and broken under the Jeep," Glanville wrote in a letter read aloud Thursday in 4th District Court. "I could do nothing to bring her back. She was already gone. ... No nightmare could even come close to the pain I had to experience that night."

It's a scene that has haunted Glanville for the past six months as he has struggled to get back to work and move on from the loss of his young bride.

On Thursday, Judge James Taylor sentenced the driver, 27-year-old Ramiro Serrano Hernandez of Pleasant Grove, to serve one to 15 years in state prison for killing Zimmer in a drunken crash last August as she sat on the sidewalk smoking a cigarette.

It was the maximum sentence he could impose, Taylor told more than two dozen of Zimmer's friends and family members seated in the gallery. But he knows it's not enough.

"It's hard to imagine a more tragic consequence," the judge said. "[The sentence] seems like a hollow response, but it's all I can do."

Hernandez, whose blood-alcohol level was 0.169 — more than twice the legal limit of 0.08 — on the day of the crash, had driven drunk before. He was deported in 2008 after being caught driving under the influence.

"He's done it before," Glanville said. "And I'm terrified he's going to do it to someone else."

Hernandez was originally charged with second-degree felony automobile homicide involving alcohol or drugs, third-degree felony failure to remain at an accident involving death and misdemeanor charges of causing an accident involving property damage and never obtaining a driver's license.

In January, prosecutors dropped all additional charges after he pleaded guilty to being drunk in the early hours of Aug. 25, when he drove his SUV over the curb and hit Zimmer, trapping her under his car until paramedics arrived.

Standing before the judge in a blue and white striped jumpsuit Thursday, Hernandez apologized to Zimmer's family through a Spanish interpreter.

"I only want to tell the family members it was not my intent to harm her or murder that person," Hernandez said. "I made an incorrect decision of driving drunk."

As he spoke, Zimmer's supporters passed around a box of tissues. Several doubled over, sobbing.

Zimmer was 22 years old at the time of her death. She and Glanville had been married five months.

Defense attorney Michael Brown said Hernandez is a "soft-spoken man," who is well thought of among friends, neighbors and co-workers. He is not violent, Brown said.

Not violent, prosecutors agreed, but criminally reckless.

"Ashlee was the textbook definition of an innocent victim — she was just sitting on the curb," prosecutor Christine Scott said. "This is the kind of crime for which prisons were built."

According to charges, Hernandez fled the scene of the crash on foot, but police later found him hiding by a nearby dumpster.

Once in custody, Hernandez admitted to drinking five to six beers earlier at a wedding, then another five to six beers at home before driving, court documents state.

Hernandez has been in custody since his August arrest on $500,000 cash-only bail, due to Hernadez's classification as an "aggravated re-entry illegal immigrant."

Hours before the deadly crash, Lindon police had cited Hernandez for intoxication and disorderly conduct while he was at the wedding, prompting a friend to give him a ride home.

He didn't have to drive that night, prosecutors said Thursday. He chose to.

"Even though Mr. Hernandez expresses remorse, he still characterizes this as an accident caused by the glare of bright headlights," Scott said. "This was not an accident. This could have been prevented."

Family members of Zimmer, who wore black and pink "Team Ashlee" T-shirts to court, recalled the young woman's uplifting personality and love for music.

Glanville called her his "beautiful songbird" and smiled, remembering the sound of his wife's voice and outings around town to sing to karaoke.

"The emptiness is felt everywhere," he wrote. "All of my dreams have been cut short."

Hernandez was ordered to pay restitution to Zimmer's family, the amount of which will be determined at a later date.

mlang@sltrib.com

Twitter: @Marissa_Jae