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DUI crash that killed woman, full-term unborn baby nets 23-year term

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The drunken driver who crossed the center line and killed a 20-year-old Culpeper woman and her unborn child in a head-on crash in September 2012 was sentenced to more than 50 years in prison Thursday, with more than half of that time suspended.

Circuit Judge Susan Whitlock sentenced 38-year-old Orlando Cruz to 20 years for involuntary manslaughter in the death of Zulma Alvarez and another 20 years for aggravated homicide. She suspended 10 years of each sentence.

Cruz also received a five-year sentence (with 41/2 years suspended) for malicious wounding, three years (two suspended) for destruction of property and 12 months each for driving while drunk, driving without a license and driving with a non-valid inspection sticker. Eight months total of the three 12-month sentences were suspended.

Cruz was also ordered to pay a $5,000 fine and make restitution to the Alvarez family of some $22,000 for medical and funeral expenses and the destruction of the minivan Zulma Alvarez was driving.

A native of Mexico, Cruz was in the United States illegally and had been deported twice, but each time returned.

Prior to his sentencing, a tearful Cruz apologized to the Alvarez family and blamed alcohol for the Sept. 6, 2012, crash.

“Mr. Alvarez, I never meant to bring harm to your family,” Cruz said to Antonio Alvarez across the courtroom.

He added that he, too, had children back in Mexico and now had no idea when he might see them again.

Judge Whitlock said she understood Cruz’s remorse, but added, “Your pain cannot compare to the pain of the Alvarez family. Your children are alive.”

In 40 minutes of emotional testimony, Alvarez, a cook and dishwasher at Frost Diner, recounted in detail the painful day of his daughter’s death and the anguish his family felt.

He described his daughter as “a strong young woman, a hard worker” of whom he was very proud. He said his family, who are legal immigrants, had not been financially able to attend her burial in their native El Salvador.

Zulma Alvarez was nine months pregnant at the time of her death. Her father also testified about how the family had passed the remains of her stillborn child “from arm to arm all night.”

A pretrial court ruling precluded prosecution for the unborn child’s death.

“I have asked God to give you wisdom [to make your sentencing decision] so that [ultimately] it will be God that makes that decision,” Alvarez told Judge Whitlock through an interpreter.

Taking the suspensions into consideration, Cruz will have an active sentence of 23 years and 10 months, with credit for the almost two years he has been in jail. He could get another 15 percent reduction for good behavior.

Cruz has two prior convictions for DUI and two others for driving without a license, but had no prior felony convictions.

During his four-day October trial, witnesses testified that Cruz was driving aggressively and erratically prior to his crash on State Route 729. His blood alcohol content was three times the legal limit.

Alvarez died when her unborn child was pushed up and blocked the blood flow to her heart.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Megan Frederick said she was satisfied with the sentencing and added, “Our hearts go out to the Alvarez family.”

“Today is a perfect example of why drunk driving is such a serious crime,” Frederick said. “This leaves the families on both sides devastated.”

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney David Barredo prosecuted the case.

Donnie Johnston:


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