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  • ANDY FURILLO / afurillo@sacbee.com

    Odilia Rocha, left, and Rosalinda Rocha, aunts of traffic accident victim Henry Perez-Rocha, attend Monday's sentencing.

  • Henry Perez-Rocha

Driver who killed boy, 6, in Citrus Heights accident gets 15 years

Published: Tuesday, Jul. 16, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jul. 16, 2013 - 6:53 am

Ten days before her car slammed into two boys walking to school and killed one of them, Tresa Ann Bales-Sterba attracted the attention of a firefighter when she swerved across three lanes of traffic in Citrus Heights and "lightly" rear-ended another motorist.

The firefighter called police, and when an officer contacted Bales-Sterba, she said she had a medical condition where "the blood vessels in her brain restricted the proper flow of blood to her brain," her probation report said, "and caused her to lose awareness."

Bales-Sterba did not show any signs of intoxication, and she passed her field sobriety tests at the time of the Sept. 25, 2012, traffic stop in Citrus Heights.

Then came the Oct. 5, 2012, crash at 8:11 a.m. that resulted in the death of Henry Perez-Rocha, 6, and serious injuries to his older brother, Juan, who was 8. This time, toxicology tests showed the presence of methamphetamine and a couple of muscle relaxers, clonazepam and temazepam, in her system.

On Monday, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Laurel D. White sentenced Bales-Sterba, 53, to 15 years in state prison, based on her no contest plea in May to gross vehicular manslaughter while driving intoxicated.

White imposed her sentence after Bales-Sterba turned around in front of the courtroom to express an apology to the Perez-Rocha family and friends who filled two rows behind her.

"All I have to say to the Perez family, I'm so deeply sorry," the tearful Bales-Sterba said. "I made a horrible choice." Referring to the boy by his Spanish name, Bales-Sterba said, "Enrique will be in my heart until the day I die."

Supporters of the Perez-Rocha family, wearing white ribbons and some of them in T-shirts with a picture of Henry on the front, broke out in tears at her mention of the boy's name.

Bales-Sterba, of Orangevale, also wrote a three-page note to the judge in which she said her driving under the influence "was a very selfish act on my behalf." She said her husband was in Illinois at the time of the crash "to bury his parents," who had died of natural causes just a short time apart, according to her lawyer. In her husband's absence, "I thought I'd just party for a few days while he's gone," she wrote.

A manicurist, Bales-Sterba had consumed a half-gram of methamphetamine the night before the fatal DUI. She said she had planned to stop at a Starbucks on Greenback Lane on her way to work when "I had a blackout."

Authorities said she was traveling westbound on Greenback when she ran the red light at Mariposa Avenue. Another motorist going south on Mariposa hit Bales-Sterba's vehicle and spun it into the crosswalk, where the Perez-Rocha boys and their mother were crossing the street on their way to Skycrest Elementary School in Citrus Heights.

The critically injured 6-year-old died a little more than three months later, on Jan. 16. Henry's brother, Juan, also needed to be hospitalized for his injuries.

Defense attorney Jeffrey E. Thoma said Bales-Sterba "is just the opposite from the worst act she has ever caused in her life." He described his client as "sweet, thoughtful, caring, extremely hard-working."

"She's as remorseful as anyone I've ever come across in my 30 years of practicing law," the Fairfield lawyer said.

Deputy District Attorney Kimberly Macy asked for the maximum term of 15 years, saying that Bales-Sterba "was really on notice that something was going on with her and that she was not able to safely drive," but that "she still decided to drive at rush hour on Greenback."

Besides the Sept. 25 driving incident, Bales-Sterba suffered a seizure on Feb. 18, 2012. She fell down and suffered lacerations to her head when she hit the pavement, according to a doctor's report her lawyer submitted to the court. The fall resulted in two stitches and eight staples to her head, according to the doctor's report.

The judge told Bales-Sterba she was "sympathetic to your views," but that she also was "mindful of the aggravating factors that justify a higher sentence" – the methamphetamine usage and the previous week's driving problem.

"At the time she ran the red light and hit the car and then hit the children leading to the death of one, this defendant knew she shouldn't be driving," White said.

Along with punishing Bales-Sterba, White said the sentence also was meant "to convey to others who are similarly situated that there are consequences for exercising bad judgment as was illustrated in this case."

When the sentencing was over, Henry's father, Jose Perez, said, "We're not satisfied" with the amount of time Bales-Sterba received, "but at least justice was served."

Call The Bee's Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141. Follow him on Twitter @andyfurillo.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

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