AUSTIN (KXAN) — A man who left the scene of a deadly crash was sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined $10,000 Tuesday, but he could be out of prison in December.
Roman Turullos-Gonzalez will serve six months in prison before a report is given to the judge. If it indicates Turullos-Gonzalez’s behavior has been positive, Judge David Wahlberg could allow him to serve the 9 1/2 year remainder of his sentence on probation.
Prior to ruling on a sentence, Wahlberg told the courtroom about the struggle judges face when possibly sentencing young people with no criminal history to prison time for cases where death occurs.
“I have thought a great deal about both Roman and (victim) Mark Gobble,” said Wahlberg. “One of the issues I am confronted with that has no real answer is ‘What would Mark want?’”
The life of Mark Gobble, a teacher for the Texas School for the Deaf, was on display through the two days of sentencing. Photos showed Gobble with his wife and two children while witnesses testified he was a “shining star” in the deaf community.
Wahlberg indicated Gobble might also have compassion for Turullos-Gonzalez who would still be just 32 at the end of the 10 year sentence.
“What struck me is that this was a man who cared about kids,” said Wahlberg about Gobble.
Outside the courtroom, defense attorney Sam Bassett said “shock probation” is a way to make sure defendants follow the terms of their probation.
“The idea is to give the person a taste of prison, not just jail,” said Bassett.
Gobble’s widow reserved judgement on the sentence.
Hours earlier, Turullos-Gonzalez apologized to the family of Mark Gobble and even said the former Texas School for the Deaf teacher had inspired him to change his life.
“After hearing how much good Mark has done, I want to put this behind me and I am inspired to help children myself someday,” said an emotional Turullos-Gonzalez as he took the stand Tuesday at his sentencing hearing.
Turullos-Gonzalez pled guilty to the Failure to Stop and Accident crash exactly two years earlier which killed Gobble while he was jogging on June 10, 2012.
While testifying, Turullos-Gonzalez explained he drifted to the left while going down Slaughter Lane moments before he collided with Gobble. He said he never saw Gobble until the impact occurred, but initially tried to get out and help.
“I went up to him and shook him and said ‘sir, are you OK?”
But his fear and panic caused him to leave Gobble to die.
“I do not know what I was thinking. I was in shock so I got back in my truck and left.”
From there he went to a wooded area to hide and admitted to hearing the helicopters and search dogs looking for him. He testified he stayed in a drainage ditch for 12 hours and it would be three days before he finally turned himself into police.
Turullos-Gonzalez’s use of drugs has been one of the focuses of the sentencing hearing to determine an appropriate sentence. He admitted to using synthetic marijuana and drinking beer the night before the crash. The use of drugs continued even after the crash as Turullos-Gonzalez failed tests in the weeks leading up to the sentencing.
“I have smoked marijuana during this case, I know I shouldn’t have. It is irresponsible of me not having control over my addiction,” said Turullos-Gonzalez.
The positive tests and missed appointments while in short programs were raised by the prosecution as a sign Turullos-Gonzalez would not adhere to the terms in sentenced to probation.
Earlier Tuesday, members of the deaf community testified about losing a “shining star” like Gobble who was well-known and respected within the community due to his passion and energy. Turullos-Gonzalez even acknowledged the accomplishments while apologizing to the Gobble family.
“He seems like an amazing person. I feel terrible that me, a nobody, took his life.”
Judge David Wahlberg took time to address the defendant after the testimony about the tough decision he faced with a sentence.
“I do not like to send people to the penitentiary, but I do it every day,” said Wahlberg. “Everyone who comes in front of me tells me what they think I want to hear, what I need to hear. That in some ways is a symptom of substance abuse. People say what they think is necessary to avoid consequences.”
In closing arguments, defense attorney Sam Bassett asked the judge for probation because Turullos-Gonzalez would still be a young man when he gets out of prison even if given the maximum 10 years. Bassett said probation would allow Turullos-Gonzalez, who works in the film industry, an opportunity to contribute to society.
The prosecution countered by pointing to new legislation and public outrage that occurred after Gabrielle Nestande was sentenced to probation for the hit-and-run accident which killed Courtney Griffin, an argument made while Griffin’s father and sister were in the audience supporting the Gobble family.
On Monday, Gobble’s widow, Leslie Hussey, was given the chance to testify and address Turullos-Gonzalez directly in her victim impact statement.
Griffin criticizes Wahlberg decision
While the Gobble family did not make any strong opinions after the sentence, one on-looker was much more vocal.
Bart Griffin’s daughter Courtney was killed in a 2011 hit-and-run case in Tarrytown. A jury sentenced Gabrielle Nestande to probation in that case, a decision that drew criticism from the community including Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo.
Tuesday’s sentence for Turullos-Gonzalez brought back more anger from Griffin.
“For the judge to be, in my opinion, so lenient on him is a travesty,” said Griffin.
The Gobble and Griffin families have worked with legislators to change the Failure to Stop and Render Aid laws in Texas. Griffin was in the courtroom for both days of Turullos-Gonzalez’s sentencing.
“I am outraged and I hope the people of Travis County are outraged at the judge’s decision in this case.”