A California woman told the family of the woman she killed last February she would gladly trade places with her, and that although her words may not mean much to them, she was sorry.
Cholla Tai Meaudine, 32, pleaded guilty last month to manslaughter and misdemeanor driving under the influence in the Feb. 13, 2012, death of Martina Sonoqui, 56.
Meaudine was driving south on Interstate 19 near the Ajo Way exit at high speed when her car rear-ended Sonoqui's pickup truck, causing it to swerve and roll.
Pima County Superior Court Judge Paul Tang sentenced Meaudine to seven years in prison Friday during a hearing that was so well-attended it was moved to a larger courtroom and still left people standing in the aisles. She was given a time-served sentence for the DUI charge.
Meaudine could have received up to 21 years in prison, but Tang imposed the minimum sentence.
During the 90-minute hearing, defense attorney Michael Bloom said he was not making excuses for his client, but he wanted everyone to know how Meaudine ended up committing such a crime.
Meaudine was raised in Tucson by a single drug-addicted mother who frequently left her with other drug-addicted people whose last names she didn't know, Bloom said.
When Meaudine was 5 or 6, one of those strangers raped and molested her repeatedly, Bloom said.
At 14, Meaudine moved out on her own, Bloom said.
After being homeless for a short time, Bloom said, Meaudine sought help from the nonprofit organization Youth on Their Own.
Meaudine graduated from high school, obtained employment and earned a scholarship to Pima Community College, Bloom said.
Meaudine had little contact with her mother after she moved out because it caused her to relive the memories from her past, Bloom said.
Meaudine dropped out of college after one year, but she got a job busing tables at a restaurant, Bloom said.
Over the next 11 years Meaudine worked up to assistant chef, Bloom said.
Meaudine moved to California in 2010 but came back to Tucson last February to attend a funeral, Bloom said.
At the funeral, Meaudine saw her mother, Bloom said. Afterward, she stopped at two Fourth Avenue bars.
When Meaudine's boyfriend refused to pick her up, she made the terrible mistake of getting behind the wheel, Bloom said.
Meaudine, who has no criminal history, told police at the scene and at the hospital she was at fault, Bloom said.
She has also attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings virtually every day since the crash, Bloom said.
Andres Garcia, one of Sonoqui's three sons, said he expected Meaudine to receive the minimum sentence because of her lack of criminal history. He said he was glad Meaudine expressed remorse.
"A lot of people feel hate," Garcia said. "I don't feel it."
Sonoqui was a full-time grandmother.
On the night of the crash, she and a friend been to a casino, Garcia said. She was struck and killed after dropping her friend off.
Sonoqui had seven grandchildren.
The youngest, now 3, carried her nightgown around for a long time after the crash so he could smell her, Garcia said.
Garcia told Tang he never stays out late anymore and it's difficult for him to get into a vehicle.
"I fear for my wife, my son and my brothers. … I'm always thinking at any moment we could be gone."
He and his wife had been discussing having another child, but they have put it off for now, Garcia said. They keep remembering Sonoqui's offers to care for the child, insisting it was going to be a girl.
Garcia's wife, Rosa, told Tang she wants people to know that drunk drivers don't just kill one person, they "kill the spirits of many, many people."
Tang told the crowd that no sentence is ever sufficient to make up for the loss of someone like Sonoqui, who was described in letters as a sage mother, doting grandmother and selfless friend.
Attorney Elliot Glicksman has filed a civil lawsuit against Bison Witches and Meaudine on behalf of the Garcia brothers. It alleges the bar's employees not only served Meaudine alcohol despite knowing she was intoxicated, but they overserved her.
Under the terms of her plea agreement, Meaudine was required to give a deposition in the civil case prior to her sentencing.
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