Utah man sentenced to prison for drunken driving crash that killed a passenger

(Photo courtesy of Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office) Isaac James Hernandez

A Utah man has been sentenced to prison for driving drunk during a 2016 crash in Tooele County that caused the death of a passenger.

Isaac James Hernandez, 29, had initially claimed that he was not driving during the July 25, 2016 crash that killed 34-year-old Scott Newman.

But Hernandez eventually admitted to being behind the wheel, and pleaded guilty earlier this month to third-degree felony counts of automobile homicide and driving under the influence of alcohol.

He was sentenced on Tuesday to a zero-to-five-year prison term.

About 2 a.m. on July 25, 2016, Hernandez was driving west on Interstate 80 near mile marker 77 — about 45 miles west of Salt Lake City — when he failed to negotiate a curve, the Utah Highway Patrol has reported.

The car left the road, struck a large sign, vaulted off a dirt mound and rolled several times.

Newman, who was not wearing a seat belt, was ejected from the car and died at the scene, according to UHP. Two other passengers were injured, but survived.

Hernandez was outside the car when troopers arrived and was “walking around frantically” with “a strong smell of alcohol on his breath” as he spoke to troopers, court documents say.

Subsequent testing showed he had a blood alcohol level of 0.14 percent, which is nearly twice the legal limit of 0.08.

When Hernandez was interviewed about a month later, he told police he was “positive” he’d been sitting in the back of the car and that Newman was driving when the crash occurred.

However, DNA testing of the deployed driver-side airbag showed that Hernandez was the driver, according to court documents.

He was initially charged with a second-degree felony automobile homicide count, as well as two counts of driving under the influence of alcohol, one a third-degree felony and the other a class A misdemeanor, and one count of obstructing justice, a class A misdemeanor.