Aaron Jordon Caudillo pleaded to three grieving families and God for forgiveness for the lives he took early that January morning: a young man who found his passion in music, who in his father’s words “lived the life I was always seeking”; another who lived life open and free and taught his family to do the same; and a girl who stood up to bullies and bigotry, a twin with a wandering soul and wise beyond her years.
“I’m not a bad person but I made a catastrophic mistake,” said a shackled Caudillo, 25, reading from a handwritten statement at his sentencing Friday in Sacramento Superior Court on three counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated in the Jan. 10 deaths of Matthew Azar, 20; Mathew Beardwitt, 18; and Kendra Langham, 18, all of Granite Bay, on Interstate 80 near Madison Avenue.
“Never have I felt such deteriorating remorse. I’ve asked God to forgive me, for I am unable to forgive myself,” Caudillo continued at the sentencing before Judge Michael Bowman. “I will always be haunted by what I did, but it is you I owe an unpayable debt. With every fiber of my being, I am sorry.”
Caudillo had never seen a courtroom before climbing into his Chrysler after a night of drinking, a quarter-bottle of rum on the seat. On Friday, he was sentenced to 14 years in state prison for slamming head-on into Azar’s car, driving lights off, at speeds of up to 85 mph on the wrong side of the road, with a blood-alcohol level nearly twice the legal limit as Azar and friends were heading home from a rave in Galt.
His friends urged him, ‘Please don’t drive. You’ve had enough.’ One phone call and we wouldn’t be here.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman
He had taken Uber twice earlier in the evening, but after another round of drinking over games of cards, Caudillo decided to drive home against the pleas of his friends because he had to work that morning. Soon, three young people were instantly killed, and Caudillo was seriously injured amid the carnage. He made his first court appearance in a wheelchair wearing a neck brace.
Such was the throng of the victims’ and Caudillo’s families that the afternoon hearing was moved from Bowman’s jailhouse courtroom to the Sacramento County Courthouse’s sprawling Department 1. The space soon filled and felt like a sanctuary – three families bidding farewell to young lives lost, a fourth family to a young man prison-bound for his crimes.
For more than an hour Friday afternoon, the families of Azar, Beardwitt and Langham made their way to the microphone to offer wrenching remembrances, call for harsh judgment and to speak of voids that will never be filled.
“He was half of me and everything that makes me whole. This has destroyed me as a person. My heart aches every day,” said Azar’s mother, Kelly Marciniak. Caudillo, she said, “does not deserve forgiveness,” calling on a sentence that “sends a message that drunk driving will not be tolerated in our community.”
Caudillo accepted a plea agreement, avoiding trial. Bowman sentenced him to the upper term of 10 years on the vehicular manslaughter charge and four additional years on enhancements connected to the deadly wreck, saying Caudillo’s choices on Jan. 10 “were his to make and his alone.”
“His friends urged him, ‘Please don’t drive. You’ve had enough,’ ” a somber Bowman said from the bench. “One phone call and we wouldn’t be here.”