A 33-year-old San Juan Capistrano man was sentenced today to two years in prison for his part in a hit-and-run collision that killed a young mother and injured her friend.
Jason Michael Roberts pleaded guilty May 24 to felony hit and run with injury. It was an "open plea" to Orange County Superior Court Judge Gary Paer, meaning there was no guarantee of what sentence he would receive.
Roberts' 1992 Toyota Camry struck 24-year-old Oriana Millan and 25-year-old Harlan Coffman—who was celebrating his birthday—as they walked across Brookhurst Street and Atlanta Avenue in Huntington Beach about 1:45 a.m. on July 22, 2011.
Millan, who had a 5-year-old daughter at the time, was pronounced dead at the scene, while Coffman suffered a fractured skull and wrist, Pino said.
Coffman and Millan had just left the Out of Bounds bar in Huntington Beach when they were hit by Roberts' car, Pino said. The collision shattered the car's windshield, Pino said. According to Pino, Roberts—who had the green light at the time of the collision—would have avoided legal trouble and received at most a ticket if he had stayed at the scene.
Instead, Roberts kept driving until his car overheated and broke down in Laguna Beach on North Coast Highway in Emerald Bay.
When Roberts called 911 for help with his car, he explained to arriving officers that he had hit a deer. But it became immediately apparent to the officers that Roberts had struck a human being, as the damage on his car was consistent with a person being hit, and there was also physical evidence on the car from the victims, authorities said at the time.
Paer noted that he received multiple letters from Millan's family and friends advocating for a life sentence, but he emphasized Roberts was not charged with killing her.
"He is not charged with causing the death of the victim," the judge said. "The only reason he's here is he did not stop his car. If he had stopped his car, he wouldn't even be here. Huntington Beach police did a thorough investigation and found that Mr. Roberts was not at fault. This was a tragic accident ... People want me to give Mr. Roberts the death penalty or life in prison and that would be completely inappropriate."
Roberts faced a sentence of up to four years in prison. He was given credit for serving 518 days in custody. Lauren Bogosian-Ruvalcaba, Millan's sister-in-law, told the judge that the victim's daughter is having trouble accepting that her mother's gone.
"At Christmas, she left a letter in the fireplace so Santa would bring her mother back," Bogosian-Ruvalcaba said, sobbing.
The victim's fiance, Michael Bogosian, said in a letter to the judge, "I lost the love of my life, the girl I was going to marry. The hardest thing I had to do was tell my daughter her mommy was never coming home because she's an angel in heaven now."
Millan's cousin, Nhora Tellez, who was also a neighbor, said her family had to move because passing by the accident scene every day was a "daily torture."
Millan's best friend and roommate, Michelle Tolmasoff, said she also had to move away because of the daily reminders of the accident, which she barely avoided herself.
"I saw the headlights in the corner of my eye and jumped to the curb," Tolmasoff said, adding she saw her friend "flipping in the air."
"I knew when I was holding her head (as ambulances were responding) that she was gone, but I couldn't admit it," Tolmasoff said. "I lost someone who was a big part of my everyday life," she said, adding the two "literally did everything together."
Defense attorney Keith Bruno turned to the victim's loved ones in court and said it was "absolutely a tragedy, one we all wish you never had to experience." But Bruno argued that his client should receive a sentence of probation.
"If she was here and she was OK, would any of us say this is a state prison case?" Bruno said. "We're punishing him for her death, and we can't do that because he's not legally or morally responsible for her death."
Bruno also noted that Millan had a blood-alcohol level of .20 and had stepped out into a dark street. Pino argued that the defendant had a "legal and moral responsibility" to stop after the accident.
"The impact was so hard, it killed her and broke his car. That put him on notice someone died," Pino said.
Paer agreed with Pino, and the judge noted that when police responded to Roberts' call for help, he lied about the accident.
"What's really somewhat aggravating is, he contacts police, not on his own volition, but because his car broke down," Paer said. "He's gone for two hours with obvious damage to his car, and he knows he hit something. He goes into this BS story of a deer. That shows some degree of callousness," Paer said.
If Roberts had admitted he struck a person to police then, even though he left the scene of the accident, "There is a good chance he would have gotten probation," Paer said.
— City News Service contributed to this story.