A lesson learned too late cost Lisa Dawn Perez the love of her life and prevented her from being with her sister and her mother in their last days.
“I’ve hurt a lot of people,” Perez told Sacramento Superior Court Judge Ben Davidian before her sentencing Friday.
Perez, 48, has a history of drunken driving. A jury in July convicted her of second-degree murder in the Sept. 18, 2012, collision at Sunrise Boulevard and Jackson Highway that killed her 66-year-old husband, Lawrence Perez. Jurors also found true that she caused great bodily injury to the Elk Grove Unified School District bus driver who crashed into her.
Despite Perez’s expression of remorse and arguments by her attorney, Assistant Public Defender Mark K. Slaughter, for a determinate sentence, Judge Davidian sentenced her to 30 years to life in prison. The regular 15-years-to-life term for the offense was doubled under the state’s “three-strikes” law due to a 1991 conviction for burglary. Perez also had a 2004 conviction for driving under the influence, and prosecutors said she had been arrested twice for DUI and had her driver’s license revoked three months before the fatal 2012 collision in which the school bus crashed into her Jeep Cherokee.
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Witnesses said that in the moments before the crash, Perez had run a red light as she was westbound on Jackson Highway at Dillard Road while going 65 to 70 mph. She then passed another school bus on the left and veered into the eastbound lanes, forcing drivers to swerve out of her way, according to the prosecutor’s trial brief.
Perez slowed to a stop at Sunrise, the brief said, but with the traffic light still against her, she nosed into the intersection and into the path of the southbound school bus. Her husband died at the scene. Lisa Perez registered a 0.20 blood-alcohol level at the time of the 3:50 p.m. crash.
Neither victims nor family members were present for Friday’s sentencing. Davidian said some people had presented statements at a Sept. 12 hearing.
Slaughter said Perez suffered from alcoholism and because of the disease, she had acted irrationally. He urged Davidian not to consider Perez’s 1991 burglary conviction as a strike offense, arguing that it was a different class of crime than the offense for which she was about to be sentenced. She already had suffered significantly from the loss of her husband, he said.
Slaughter also noted that during the two years Perez has been in jail her sister and mother have died, and Perez has been treated for thyroid cancer. During her time in jail, he said, she has grown spiritually and has counseled other prisoners on her floor. She has become much more centered, he said.
“I’m more centered because I had to get centered,” Perez told the court. “You come to a point in your life when you’ve done all that other stuff and it didn’t work … Because of what I’ve done, I wasn’t out there to be with my mom and my sister.”
But Perez said she most regretted that her actions had cost her husband his life.
Prosecutor Kari Reeve said Perez had had plenty of opportunity to deal with her drinking problem, but failed to do so.
A woman for whom Perez served as a caregiver had warned her that she was going to hurt someone if she didn’t stop drinking, but Perez reportedly told her, “It’s OK. I know what I’m doing.”
“She didn’t handle it at all and as a result she killed somebody,” Judge Davidian said.
Had other people been aboard the school bus, the consequences for the community could have been much worse, he said.
Davidian said he was particularly moved by the effect the collision had on the bus driver. He recalled that the woman was emotionally exhausted after recounting the collision during the trial.
Her comment was, “I hit them and he died,” Davidian recalled.
She has to live with that the rest of her life, even though she was in the right and had the green light, he said.
“It’s a very tragic case here,” Davidian said. “But most of my sympathy has to go to the decedent and the decedent’s family and to that bus driver … who was so horribly, horribly affected by what happened.”
The Elk Grove Unified School District is seeking restitution for the school bus and workers’ compensation expenses. Davidian scheduled a hearing on the amount of restitution for Jan. 12.
Call The Bee’s Cathy Locke, (916) 321-5287.