Like the judge said, most days you just hang up the robe when 5 o’clock rolls around and you go home and forget about it.
Other days, it’s raining in your eyes, and that’s what happened Friday in Sacramento Superior Court to Judge Gregory F. Haas.
He wiped away the moisture and choked back emotion while sentencing to prison a sobbing, remorseful defendant whose bad driving resulted in the death of a retired Hewlett-Packard employee who spent most of his time off in church.
“The loss is profound,” Haas said from the bench after hearing from the loved ones of Nathan Dale West. “You can feel it. It’s palpable.”
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West, 55, was killed Oct. 1 while driving home on his motorcycle from a friend’s house after having dinner with her.
The collision on southbound Hazel Avenue at Jonnie Way in Orangevale was set in motion by Amanda Kathleen Horn, 29. She ran her Honda through a stop sign and crashed into a Mercedes, which then slid into West and sent him tumbling off his Yamaha XT 500 dual sport.
Horn sped away after the wreck. Along with vehicular manslaughter, the Fair Oaks woman was charged with a felony for failing to stop and provide assistance to a person she had injured. She pleaded no contest to both charges Jan. 6.
Haas at first thought Horn’s mistake merited a two-year sentence in state prison. He told Deputy District Attorney Lindsey Phillips and Horn’s former defense lawyer, Mike Bowman, who is now a judge, that he would give Horn the two-year sentence for conceding her guilt at such an early stage in the proceedings.
Then he read Horn’s probation report Friday and upped her time to three years in prison.
Most damagingly for Horn, the probation report quoted a California Highway Patrol account of the crash that said when she approached the Mercedes driver after hitting him, Horn “walked over to the collision scene and began arguing with him about who had the right of way.”
According to the report, another witness to the crash then checked on the fallen West “and said he was not breathing.”
“After hearing that (West) was not breathing, (Horn) began to run, heading back towards her vehicle,” the report said. “She then fled the scene in the Honda.”
Horn, who has no prior record in the county’s online court filings, turned herself in the next day.
The crash killed a man who had retired the year before his death after working 32 years as a lab tech for Hewlett-Packard in Roseville.
Marjorie Krueger, who described herself in court as West’s best friend, said in an interview that he spent almost all of his time during his retirement volunteering for Bayside Church in Granite Bay.
“He meant so much to everyone at Bayside,” Krueger said. “He volunteered in the coffee shop for six years. He fixed everything there. He was just so important to everybody there. Everybody loved him.”
West rode motorcycles for fun and was preparing to go on a road trip with his friends at the time of his death.
More than 150 people attended his services, Krueger said.
At Friday’s sentencing, Haas said he had read through the 20-some letters sent to the court from Horn’s friends and family members, attesting to her character. She always worked, they said, most recently as a bartender/server at Black Angus at the time of the crash. They said she was friendly and polite and cared about others.
Mary G. Fowler, a friend of the defendant’s parents, said that even from jail, Horn sent her a Christmas card.
“She is in a place where no person would ever want to be, but she still took the time to draw Christmas cards and send them to close friends and family members,” Fowler wrote. “This is a person who always thinks of others and makes the best of her situation. I will put that card out every Christmas from now on.”
Horn wrote an apology letter that her newly retained attorney, Jesse Ortiz, read in court Friday, to West’s family and friends.
“There will never be a day that goes by that my heart will not hurt,” she wrote. “I cannot express how truly and deeply sorry I am for all the suffering that all involved are experiencing. I wanted to express how this has affected and changed me and that I would like to take this time to ask that if not right now, that eventually may you please be able to offer forgiveness in the future.”
West’s sister, Emily Lee, who said the loss of her brother is “incomprehensible” to her, wasn’t quite there yet.
“This loving man’s life was ended by the careless, irresponsible, incredibly stupid act of one individual who didn’t even have the respect to stay and try to help,” Lee said in a statement she read to the court. “She made a conscious choice to drive away. That alone shows her true character. For her to be free to live her life after a few months in jail is a slap in the face to all of us who loved Dale.”
Marjorie Krueger described herself as “devastated” by the loss of her friend.
She said if West were alive, “I know Dale would pray for Ms. Horn and reassure her that God loves her abundantly. I hope that in the future she will take responsibility for the well-being of others and try to be a better person.”