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Driver in Fatal Crash Gets 7 Years

The Moorpark man was drunk when his speeding vehicle struck a disabled car, killing two. Both victims were 19 and from L.A County.

March 27, 2004|Holly Wolcott | Times Staff Writer

A 19-year-old Moorpark man was sentenced Friday to seven years in prison for driving drunk and causing a crash that killed a young Los Angeles County couple.

George Paul Henderson, who was on probation for drunk driving at the time of the crash, was spared the most serious penalty of 13 years because he pleaded guilty.

"The victims had no choice," Ventura County Deputy Dist. Atty. Theresa Pollara said at the emotional hearing.

"They did everything right that day. The defendant had several choices, and each time he made the wrong choices."

Pollara had asked Superior Court Judge Bruce A. Clark to send Henderson to prison for nine years. The defense argued for four. Henderson could be free in less than five years.

Deputy Public Defender Steve Lipson said his client was devastated by the crash. Too despondent to speak, Henderson stared at the floor and rocked in his chair.

"Mr. Henderson is ashamed and humiliated by his actions," Lipson said. "From the very first day I met him, he's offered nothing but remorse."

Through Lipson, Henderson extended his apologies to the victims' families and admitted to having made "horrible choices."

On Nov. 15, Shantile Stanton of Reseda and her boyfriend, German Bonilla of Mission Hills, were killed when their disabled car was struck by Henderson's vehicle on the Ventura Freeway. Both were 19.

Stanton and Bonilla, who had been shopping, were stalled in the freeway's center divider near Ventu Park Road in Newbury Park. They had hoped to start a family after moving to Santa Rosa and going to college.

Authorities said Henderson, who had been drinking and smoking pot at a friend's house in Camarillo, pulled his car into the center divider at about 80 mph to pass traffic.

The impact crushed the victims' car and pushed it 200 feet down the freeway. They died instantly.

"He hurt our family more than anybody. She had her whole life ahead of her," Stanton's stepfather, Fernando Cedillo, said in tearful courtroom remarks.

Cedillo said Stanton and her mother had come to live with him when Stanton was 10 months old. Cedillo said he walked Stanton to school every day and had set aside three credit cards to pay for her wedding someday. Instead, he used the cards for her funeral.

During his remarks, Cedillo handed the defendant and his attorney photographs of the victims from their prom, a birthday celebration and other events. Henderson studied them before handing them back.

Bonilla's father, German Bonilla Sr., told the court in Spanish that he did not hate the defendant but desperately wanted him to do something positive with his life.

"Perhaps he doesn't understand what he did," Bonilla Sr. said.

The only person from the audience to speak on Henderson's behalf was Clinton LaQuadra, the man who was riding with him the day of the crash. LaQuadra, who suffered minor injuries, said his friend was a good person who did not mean to inflict any harm.

Henderson's family, some of whom were in court, did not speak and left without talking to reporters. Twenty-nine family members and friends wrote letters of support to the court.

Henderson also was ordered to pay nearly $20,000 in restitution -- a burden for him and his 18-year-old wife, whom he married in a ceremony at the Todd Road Jail last month.

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