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Woman gets 10 years for crash that killed official

July 28, 2007|Garrett Therolf | Times Staff Writer

The death of a popular Orange city councilman resulted in a 10-year prison sentence Friday for the woman who caused the crash that killed him when she swerved her car into oncoming traffic in an alcohol and marijuana induced haze.

The judge told grocery clerk Sara Lyn Ward, 31, that he hoped that the harsh sentence for the death of Steve Ambriz --the maximum he could hand down -- would feel like an "arctic wind" that would "chill you to the bone."

"I'm satisfied with the sentence because she was in more trouble than a lot of us initially knew," said Ambriz's mother, Erlinda. "I didn't think she should be back on the streets anytime soon."

Judge James A. Stotler said the sentence was justified by Ward's previous conviction for involuntary manslaughter when she was 17. Ward pleaded guilty to kicking and punching a woman with a heart condition during a traffic altercation, and the stress was blamed by the coroner for the woman's fatal heart attack.

Ward sat for most of the sentencing with a copy of the Bible in front of her, sometimes dabbing her eyes with tissue, as she told the courtroom that she felt an extraordinary burden of guilt and would dedicate her life to telling of her experiences as a cautionary tale for others.

Her attorney, Arlene Speiser, argued for a six-year sentence, explaining that a long history of methamphetamine addiction had hindered her client's ability to make good choices.

She said Ward was also quick to own up to her crime, plead guilty and ask the court for mercy.

The prosecutor, Rebecca Olivieri, argued that Ward's expressions of remorse were ploys intended to arouse sympathy. The judge said he was also skeptical of her remorse.

Ambriz, 35, died May 25, 2006, when his car was struck head-on by the pickup Ward was driving on her way to work at Ralphs. The truck veered across a 12-foot asphalt median onto the wrong side of Santiago Canyon Road near Windes Drive.

Ambriz was elected to the council in 2002 and was married with a young daughter.

Before becoming a councilman, he spent four years as chief of staff for then-Orange County Supervisor, now Assemblyman, Todd Spitzer. Spitzer (R-Orange) has proposed two bills to increase the penalty for alcohol- and drug-caused traffic deaths.

Spitzer said he left Friday's hearing unsatisfied with the sentence.

"It's outrageous, and it's why we have been trying to change the law for years to make the penalties stronger," he said.

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garrett.therolf@latimes.com

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