'It should have been me': Watch Obdulia Sanchez talk during sentencing hearing
Obdulia Sanchez was sentenced Thursday to six years and four months in prison for gross vehicular manslaughter, DUI and child endangerment stemming from a July 2017 crash in which her 14-year-old sister died.
Sanchez, 18, of Stockton, had captured the crash – and the moments before and after – on live Instagram video that went viral worldwide.
With time she already has spent in jail and with good behavior in prison, Sanchez could be eligible for release on Sept. 21, 2020.
Before Merced County Visiting Judge Ronald Hansen handed down her sentence, Sanchez read an emotional statement expressing remorse, faith in God and wondering why it wasn’t her that died.
“I feel like such an idiot,” Sanchez said. “Why did God choose me to be the older sister. I can’t even do my job right.”
The length of her prison sentence is a mid-point between what Merced County Deputy District Attorney Thomas Min, and Sanchez’s attorney, Merced County Deputy Public Defender Ramnik Samrao, argued for.
Sanchez was driving a white Buick Century on July 21 west on Henry Miller Road – north of Los Banos and east of Highway 140 – when it crashed and rolled over off the south end of the road, police said.
The crash killed Sanchez's 14-year-old sister, Jacqueline Sanchez, and injured her sister's 15-year-old girlfriend, Manuela Ceja.
Sanchez was detained at the scene after she was belligerent due to the death of her sister, reportedly kicking and spitting at medics and police as they responded.
She was arrested after a blood test at Los Banos Memorial Hospital revealed her blood alcohol content was registered at 0.106 about 90 minutes after the crash.
Sanchez pleaded no contest to multiple felony charges on Jan. 24.
The moment Sanchez realized her sister was dead played “over and over in my head,” she said Thursday in court.
“When I look at my mom’s face, I know she hates me,” Sanchez said. “I would hate myself too. I’m such a disappointment to my parents.”
Members of Sanchez’s family urged Hansen to grant probation so Sanchez could be with them.
Min sought the maximum sentence of 12 years in prison, arguing that Sanchez showed “callousness” in the gruesome Instagram video she took after the crash. In court, he quoted Sanchez’s expletive-laced words from the videos, which included she was “hella drunk,” and “I don’t care if I go to jail for life.”
Min revealed new details of the crash, including information that Sanchez tried to purchase alcohol at a store, but was turned down. Then, later, an adult acquaintance purchased alcohol for her.
Min also said along with alcohol, Sanchez’s blood samples tested positive for marijuana and cocaine.
Samrao argued for probation and no prison time for his client, claiming that Sanchez would comply with probation and that prison time would further harm an 18-year-old woman who has already had a rough childhood.
Samrao said Sanchez was sexually abused by someone close to her family when she was 11 years old. Two years later, she was abducted by a 46-year-old man, who sexually assaulted her and forced her to use methamphetamine and alcohol, he said, which was the start of her addictions to drugs and alcohol.
Sanchez was a victim of child sex trafficking, Samrao said, noting that her abuser was currently in prison.
The crises she dealt with led to her acting out and eventually landing her in juvenile court when she was 15 and 16 years old, Samrao said. But then she was ordered to rehabilitiation and was succeeding with the help of counseling, eventually becoming a model student at a group home, becoming class president and graduating high school early.
Sanchez also was taking community college courses before the crash, Samrao said, adding that she had good mental health, substance abuse counseling and therapy.
“I had so much potential, but I threw it all away because I wanted to look cool and drive carelessly,” Sanchez said in her statement.
After she turned 18 in April 2017, Sanchez exercised her right to move back home several months before the crash, Samrao said. But that also meant she didn’t have access to the mental health care, counseling and therapy in the group home.
“Had she never been released from the home, without proper care and supervision ... this never would have happened,” Samrao said.
Samrao also disputed the District Attorney’s Office’s perspective on the viral video that Sanchez was saying she doesn’t care about her actions.
When Sanchez was saying she “doesn’t care,” Samrao said she meant she doesn’t care about what happened to her as a plea for help and because she was accepting responsibility for her actions.
Hansen said 12 years and no jail time were both extremes when considering similar cases.
“Probation is very rare, very rare,” Hansen said. “The max is very, very rare, with this person’s background.”
Hansen agreed that Sanchez was remorseful and had accepted responsibility for her actions. But he said he also couldn’t look past the fact that Sanchez drove under the influence at high speeds with a 14-year-old sister and 15-year-old girl in the car.
Along with agreeing that Sanchez was not “callous,” but remorseful, that she was 18 years old and that she had accepted responsibility for her actions, Hansen said he also considered uniformity in sentences of people facing similar charges.
Sanchez’s possible earliest release date is half her sentence from the day of the crash. She also will have to pay restitution.
After the sentencing, Samrao said Sanchez was holding her composure.
“The was never discouraged or afraid” of a prison sentence, he said, adding that she felt terrible for the people she hurt, but she was also prepared to do her time.
Samrao said he wasn’t sure what rehabilitative programs Sanchez would receive while incarcerated. But he said she could work toward geting licenses and certifications she could use to get a job when her sentence is up.
“I feel bad for the family,” Samrao said. “They lost two daughters.”
Following the sentence, Min said he still felt the Instagram videos showed that Sanchez was callous and deserving of a maximum sentence, noting that her childhood didn’t have an impact on the charges that were filed.
Min said he hopes Sanchez will learn from her “series of bad judgments” while incarcerated.