AUSTIN (KXAN) — As a judge officially sentenced 25-year-old Michelle Orduna to nine years in prison for driving drunk and causing a crash that killed two people in 2015, Orduna wiped tears away from her eyes.
On Aug. 29, 2015, around 2:30 a.m., Austin police say Orduna got onto the southbound lanes of Interstate 35 from Manor Road while going northbound and crashed head-on into a Toyota Scion driven by Clayton Keller, 26.
Keller died at the scene. Orduna’s friend, 23-year-old Megan Mendez of New Braunfels, was taken to the hospital where she died from her injuries the following day. Orduna and her friend had been out that night celebrating Orduna’s birthday.
Orduna received nine years after accepting a plea agreement last month. As part of the deal, she pleaded guilty to one count of intoxication manslaughter. Orduna could be eligible for parole in four-and-a-half years.
She appeared in court with a cane — one of the consequences from injuries she sustained in the crash.
Keller’s family told KXAN last month they wanted prosecutors to take the case to a jury.
“It’s been two and a half years of putting our emotions on hold and trying to get closure,” explained Ali Gonsalves, Keller’s mother. “[We’re] not part of the decision, not part of the process, and feeling like we have no say in what’s going on.”
On Friday, Keller’s family members had the opportunity to address Orduna directly.
“I hope you don’t take for granted that at the end of the day you will still get to see your mom and dad’s face,” said Sarah Keller, his wife. “You will still get to see your friend’s faces again. All the while, my son and I have to live with the choice you made. We have lost so much more due to your decision of driving drunk. I lost my husband and our son lost his dad. You made that choice for us — a choice that we didn’t want, but a choice that we are going to have to live with every day of our lives.”
“Our forever was cut short because of your careless thinking. We still had our whole lives ahead of us. There was still so much more for us to do. But, at 27 years old, I was signing papers for my husband’s body to be buried — signing for a burial plot, and for a service that shouldn’t have been done until we were old and gray,” she added, crying.
“This foolish tragedy shouldn’t have happened. It was 100 percent preventable,” Gonsalves told Orduna on Friday. “He was my only son, taken too soon and too suddenly. We never had a chance to say goodbye. Although you never knew him, my son was a real person who loved life and loved people.”
Gonsalves said that she forgives Orduna but that doing so does not take away the pain of losing her only son.
“It breaks my heart to know that someone so educated could make such a foolish mistake,” she added.
The parents of Megan Mendez also addressed Orduna. They say they have forgiven their daughter’s best friend.
“We will only ever see you as Megan’s best friend — someone she could always depend on. She used to say that the two of y’all were separated at birth,” said Linda Mendez, Megan’s mother. “I wish the outcome of the sentencing would have been different. Something that required you to do some community service with public speaking, rather than prison time.”
The mother told Orduna that Megan would be watching over her.
“We love you, Michelle, and we will be seeing you. God bless you,” Mendez added.
Megan’s father also participated in the allocution.
“There was no malice, no intent, no premeditation to commit this act, as it was an accident. I know Michelle made a mistake and our system of justice requires accountability. Should Michelle have been driving that night? Probably not. Did she make a bad decision? I think we know the answer,” said Joseph Mendez, Megan’s father. “I have forgiven Michelle and know that she will be an advocate for change.”
Mendez said he will miss his daughter, but said that he will continue to pray for Orduna and the Keller family.
Orduna’s blood alcohol concentration revealed she had the equivalent of a .17 percent BAC at the time of the crash.
Intoxication manslaughter — a second-degree felony — carries a range of 2-20 years in prison or 2-10 years probation. Orduna must serve half of her sentence, after which she can be evaluated to determine if she is a candidate for parole.