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Orange County

Truck Driver Gets 1 Year in Fatal Anaheim Crash

November 22, 2002|Mai Tran | Times Staff Writer

A truck driver who lost control of his overweight big rig in an Anaheim Hills intersection last year, killing a popular optometrist in a 12-vehicle accident, was sentenced Thursday to one year in jail -- a term family members said was not a fair price for the man who died.

"I relive that morning," Kenneth Michael Larkin's widow, Annie, wrote in a letter read during the sentencing. "You have robbed me of my Michael. You have taken away my very best friend and my love."

Larkin, 53, was killed in the March 8, 2001, accident when Anthony Robert Saiz's truck -- which was traveling on Imperial Highway with failing brakes and a load of gravel -- careened down a residential hill, then barreled through a red light at the Nohl Ranch Road intersection.

Saiz was arrested on suspicion of being under the influence of methamphetamine and morphine and having a stash of urine from a family member, which authorities suspected he was carrying to beat a drug test. Also, his license had expired.

On Thursday, Saiz tearfully apologized to the family. "I'm just so very sorry to the Larkin family," said Saiz, seated in a wheelchair and wiping his eyes with his shirt sleeve. "This is something that will stay with me for the rest of my life."

Orange County Superior Court Judge John Ryan said the one-year jail term with five years' probation was the maximum sentence permitted. He also ordered Saiz to surrender his commercial driver's license, suspended his driver's license for a year and ordered him to pay nearly $29,000 in restitution.

"An experienced truck driver should have known there's bad brakes and an overload," Ryan said. "He should have not been on that road."

Saiz, 48, of Lakewood pleaded guilty in September to vehicular manslaughter while under the influence of drugs.

During the police investigation, Saiz told officials that he tried to stop at the light, then waved and hit the horn to alert others. Police concluded that seven of the eight brakes on his truck, owned by Peterson Bros. Construction, were faulty and that the load of gravel exceeded the legal limit.

The accident, near two schools, sparked rallies and outrage from neighbors who had long complained about speeding trucks. The city of Anaheim increased police enforcement in the area.Though there was no dispute that Saiz was driving under the influence, it was ultimately unclear whether the drugs played a role in the accident.

The driver's attorney, Philip Zalewski, said that it was not his client's responsibility to check the condition of the truck and that Saiz became a scapegoat as the investigation progressed.

Saiz's family pleaded for leniency. "He pays for this every day," said Monique Craig, one of his four children.

Saiz injured his back, legs and knees in the accident.

The victim's mother, Laverne Larkin, wrote a letter to the court, reminding the judge of the price she and other family members paid.

"[Michael] was so badly injured, I [could] only touch his hand at his viewing."

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