Suspended sentence requested for driver

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle recommended that Juan Vargas receive a suspended imposition of sentence and probation for his guilty plea to a manslaughter charge Monday. He also recommended the dismissal of Vargas' remaining two assault charges, citing the victim impact statements submitted by Atalo Garcia-Lopez, brother of Roberto Garcia-Lopez, 30, and the other occupants of the car.

Vargas, 25, formerly of 1416 Jefferson Ave. in Cape Girar-deau, pleaded guilty to one felony count of involuntary vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, resulting from an April 15 car crash that killed Roberto Garcia-Lopez. Vargas appeared before Circuit Court Judge William Syler, who set sentencing for July 30, pending a pre-sentence investigation.

Atalo said he and his family do not think any charges should be pressed against Vargas, according to his statement. They said they don't believe Vargas should be punished because he loved Roberto as if he was his brother, and his death is punishment enough.

The other occupants of the car, Jose Martin Gomez-Alvarez, 20, and Ruben Garcia-Sanchez, 20, both said they have grown spiritually after the accident, according to their statements. Both said Vargas should not receive further punishment because he will suffer for the rest of his life with the death of his best friend.

Vargas said he wished he had another chance to fix his mistake, in a statement through his lawyer, Patrick McMenamin.

Judge Syler warned Vargas that, despite Swingle's recommendations, he alone held the final decision on sentencing.

Vargas registered a blood-alcohol content of .083 about an hour after the accident, according to Cape Girardeau County Swingle. Missouri's legal limit is .08. Missouri Highway Patrol investigators concluded that Vargas was not speeding at the time of the accident.

Vargas failed to navigate a curve on County Road 312, ran off the road and hit a fence and two trees, according to Swingle. None of the occupants was wearing a safety belt at the time.

Cape Girardeau County Coroner John Clifton said Garcia-Lopez died of a cervical fracture and most likely died instantly.

Gomez-Alvarez said Vargas was driving the others home from the warehouse of Terry Hill Roofing when the accident occurred. He said they drank some beers at the warehouse after returning from a 12-hour workday on a roofing job in Festus, Mo.

Garcia Sanchez said he and Gomez-Alvarez were not informed of Roberto's death until after they were discharged from the hospital.

Vargas said he wants to pay the bill for the 24-hour guard the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Department has posted at his hospital room since the accident. Family friend Abby Aguirre said members of the local Latino community are trying to raise funds to repay the nearly $10,000 in overtime hours accumulated by the sheriff's department. Vargas, who does not have health insurance, also has to pay the medical bills for his extensive stay to treat severe internal bleeding at Saint Francis Medical Center.

Aguirre said Vargas told her to sell everything he owns to try to pay the bills.

Vargas' wife Lola and his two daughters Dani, 4, and Jessica, 1, have lived with Aguirre since Vargas' accident. The family's only son drowned last spring.

Lola cleans houses to contribute, but said it has been very hard to support the family since her husband's accident.

Lola sends money to Garcia-Lopez's widow in Mexico, according to a statement made by Vargas through his attorney.

Patrick McMenamin said Vargas' guilty plea on the felony charge meant he would most likely be deported after completing any sentence given.

"He's an extraordinary young man," McMenamin said. "He doesn't really care what happens to himself, or if he goes to jail. He cares only about his family and their well-being."

pwylie@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127

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