A former Altar Valley School District wrestling coach and bus driver who fled to Mexico with a 15-year-old girl was sentenced to six years in prison Monday in Pima County Superior Court.
Todd Hezlitt, 39, who pleaded guilty if February to two counts of sexual conduct with a minor and one count of custodial interference, apologized to the girl and her family for the ordeal at the sentencing hearing.
"I had some trouble with my own daughter, and I know what it means to have a child missing," he said.
Hezlitt was first arrested in April 2012 for having sex with the girl. As part of the conditions of his release, he was not allowed to be near the victim but was seen with her at a high school graduation in late May. When sheriff's deputies went to arrest him, they found he had taken off with the girl.
In late July 2012, the girl turned herself in at the U.S. Consulate in Mazatlan, and Hezlitt was found shortly thereafter and extradited to the U.S.
Hezlitt went on trial in February, but agreed to a plea deal shortly before the first witness was set to testify.
Prosecutor Alan Goodwin asked Judge Richard Fields to impose the maximum sentence possible, 12 years in prison, because of the emotional impact of Hezlitt's actions on the victim and her family.
Goodwin called Hezlitt's actions "a grave violation of trust" and said parents should be able to trust that their children are safe while riding the school bus.
Hezlitt's attorney, Chris Kimminau asked for a mitigated sentence, citing Hezlitt's many years of military service and his lack of a criminal record.
Kimminau said it was the girl's idea to go to Mexico, and Hezlitt accompanied her to protect her.
He said as soon as the girl wanted to come home, Hezlitt took her to the consulate and made sure she was safe.
Hezlitt told the court his relationship with the girl did not stem from meeting on a school bus, but from the victim's relationship with his niece and nephew.
Kimminau said the girl first told Hezlitt she was 18 years old and what happened after that was a "series of poor choices" on Hezlitt's part.
Contact reporter Veronica Cruz at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 573-4224.