It was a moment of revelry that turned to pain and loss with a single gunshot.
Six minutes into 2015, Steven Michael Lucas and his girlfriend, Kayley Leavitt, stepped outside the Carmichael-area apartment they shared with their toddler to greet the new year. Lucas brought a gun. When Lucas attempted to fire a round to celebrate, he fatally shot Leavitt. She died that afternoon. Leavitt was 23.
On Wednesday, Lucas pleaded guilty in Sacramento Superior Court to involuntary manslaughter with the use of a firearm – a strike offense – in a death that friends and family of both Lucas and Leavitt called a terrible mistake. Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman ordered that Lucas, 24, will serve five years’ formal probation and will no longer be able to own or possess a firearm.
“He doesn’t escape punishment. He will be monitored closely,” said Sacramento County Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney Rob Norgaard, who prosecuted the case.
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Lucas was drinking on New Year’s Eve. He cannot now, by court order. His vehicle is equipped with an interlocking ignition device requiring a driver to breathe into the device before starting the vehicle. There is also court-ordered alcohol rehabilitation and a battery of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, counseling sessions and monitoring by probation officials that will occur as a result of Wednesday’s plea. A potential 14-year prison sentence hangs over Lucas if he violates his probation, Norgaard said.
“It’s an appropriate sentence in this case,” Norgaard said, later echoing family, friends and others who see the fatal January shooting on Callie Lane as a tragic accident. “The evidence was overwhelming that it was an accident. It was clear to me that he realizes the magnitude of this. He’s living in his own hell right now.”
Police told prosecutors Lucas was suicidal when they arrested him and did not want him released from jail for fear he would end his life, Norgaard said.
Today, Lucas “is still devastated. It’s still day-to-day,” said his court-appointed lawyer, Diane B. Howard, a supervising attorney in the Sacramento County Public Defender’s Office. “The (district attorney) recognized it was a tragic, horrible accident. Steven is really remorseful and in a lot of pain. There’s no punishment worse than the one he’s already sustained. It’s still a slow journey to try to heal.”
The case had been referred to county probation officials for what is known as a pre-plea report – a sentencing recommendation by a probation office prior to a plea being submitted. Norgaard acknowledged the support for Lucas from family members.
“A family’s wishes do not control the outcome of a case, but we listened very closely to them,” he said.
Throughout the case, family and friends of Lucas and Leavitt asked for leniency. A stack of letters written by loved ones and tucked into a file on Howard’s desk describe a “loving, caring man” and a “son with a broken heart.” The couple have a daughter, 3.
“You can’t mix alcohol and guns. In the midst of celebrating, you can do something you can never take back,” Norgaard said. “The greatest punishment he’ll ever face is the realization that guns and alcohol resulted, in his words, taking out his best friend, his life partner, the mother of his child.”
Call The Bee’s Darrell Smith, (916) 321-1040.