Logan • First District Court Kevin Allen was prepared to hand down the maximum sentence — a year in jail — to Emiliano Duane Guereca, a 19-year-old Logan man who caused a fatal car crash last November.
But, the judge told Guereca on Monday that he had changed his mind. It had nothing to do with anything Guereca had done — and everything to do with a letter written by the family of 72-year-old Duane Labrum, who was killed after Guereca hit his vehicle head-on while trying to pass a car.
"I have been doing this awhile," Allen told Guereca. "And I just don’t think that I’ve ever seen such compassion and kindness."
Allen ultimately suspended the jail sentence, instead ordering Guereca to complete 50 hours of community service, pay $1,000 fine and complete a substance abuse evaluation.
Before handing down the sentence, Allen read aloud the letter that Labrum’s family had written to Guereca.
"We recognize the accident that took Dad’s life was just that — an accident," the letter read.
"…Let this experience have a positive outcome. Dad was a very compassionate person, he was a man who lived a life of service to others. He was a proponent to, and always cheered for, the underdog."
Guereca pleaded no contest in May to reckless driving and driving with a measurable amount of a controlled substance in his system, both class B misdemeanors.
Guereca was driving south on State Road 165 between Hyrum and Nibley on the morning on Nov. 6, when he clipped a car that he was trying to pass and hit Labrum’s car head-on.
Guereca said in court papers that he left "plenty of room to pass" but never saw Labrum’s car because the man’s headlights were off.
"I would like to apologize to the family," Guereca said in court Monday. "I owe my life to them for what has happened."
As for the controlled substance found in his system, Guereca wrote in his plea agreement that three days before the fatal accident, he "took two puffs" of marijuana.
Prosecutor Spencer Walsh told the judge that because it was inactive marijuana metabolite found in Guereca’s system — not active tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the case was prosecuted differently than a normal drug-related case.
"A few days prior to this accident, there was THC in his system," Walsh said. "It was metabolite though [in his blood at the time of the accident], so we don’t believe he was impaired, but he did operate his vehicle in a reckless manner."
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.