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Oxnard Man Who Backed Truck Over Toddler Gets 2 Years in Prison

November 22, 2003|Tracy Wilson | Times Staff Writer

An Oxnard man who backed his truck over a 15-month-old child and then fled as the toddler's mother cried out in horror was ordered Friday to serve two years in state prison for the death.

The parents of Francisco Morales had asked for more.

The two farm workers stood before Ventura County Superior Court Judge Bruce A. Clark during a sentencing hearing Friday, clutching a wood-framed portrait of their only son, and described the boy as an innocent victim taken from them at too young an age.

"I don't think my child should have died like this," said Ines Gutierrez, the boy's mother, speaking through a Spanish-language interpreter while facing away from the defendant. "He took away the most precious thing."

Mike Hernandez, 55, was arrested in September, two days after the incident, for allegedly running over Francisco as the boy played with other children in a working-class neighborhood of El Rio.

Law enforcement officials said Hernandez backed over the child in a dirt courtyard while Gutierrez, who was standing nearby, cried out for him to stop. As she scooped up the child from the ground, Hernandez looked back and then fled, authorities said. The boy died a short time later at St. John's Regional Medical Center in Oxnard.

Prosecutors charged Hernandez -- who according to court records was cited earlier this year for driving without a license -- with felony hit-and-run, misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter and driving without a license. He pleaded no contest to all three counts in October.

Under state law, felony hit-and-run resulting in death is punishable by up to four years in state prison.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Theresa Pollara asked Clark to impose the four-year maximum plus one year for the manslaughter charge, arguing that Hernandez waited two days to turn himself in to police. Pollara also implied that Hernandez lacked remorse, which the judge disputed.

Clark noted that Hernandez accepted responsibility at an early stage in the case, and he questioned whether the defendant could have known that a little boy had darted behind his truck.

"The bottom line is, this was a tragic accident," the judge said. "The defendant did not see the victim when he started to back up. I think it is an area where you would not expect to find a 15-month-old child."

Outside the courtroom, Pollara said she was disappointed in the sentence. She said relatives of the victim's family were providing child care for Francisco before the accident while his parents worked in the fields.

And she said Hernandez should have known that children often play in that El Rio neighborhood.

"It's a neighborhood," Pollara said, "where there are hard-working people who can't afford to buy a house with a yard."

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