Crime

Stanislaus judge sentences drunk driver for murder in crash that killed two people

A Stanislaus County judge on Friday sentenced a man convicted of second-degree murder for a 2016 drunk driving crash that killed two people on a rural road near Patterson.

On Sept. 17, Martin Raymundo Padilla Gutierrez, 39, of Patterson, pleaded no contest to the murder charge in connection with the crash that led to the deaths of Zenaida Mendez, 40, and Ulises Torres-Zepeda, 31, both of Patterson.

Gutierrez also pleaded no contest to driving under the influence of alcohol as part of a plea deal with the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office. The conviction allows Gutierrez to avoid a trial that was scheduled to start last month.

The defendant, who has been in custody the past three years, returned to court Friday morning for his formal sentencing. Superior Court Judge Linda McFadden sentenced Gutierrez to serve 15 years to life in prison, in accordance with the plea deal.

A charge of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, driving without a valid driver’s license and a second count of murder filed against Gutierrez were dropped as part of the plea deal.

Martin Raymundo Padilla Gutierre_fitted.jpeg
Martin Raymundo Padilla Gutierrez Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department

The court allows victims’ families to speak in court before a defendant is sentenced. Deputy District Attorney Wendell Emerson told the judge that there was nobody from the victims’ families who wanted to speak in court about the impact of their deaths.

The deadly crash occurred about 9 p.m. on Aug. 9, 2016, at the intersection of Pomelo and Sycamore avenues, about two miles southeast of Patterson. Mendez and Torres-Zepeda were in a 2002 Honda Accord that crashed with Gutierrez’s 1998 Ford Explorer.

The California Highway Patrol reported that Gutierrez was heading east on Pomelo, when he ran the stop sign. Traffic on Sycamore had no stop sign. Gutierrez’s vehicle struck the Honda Accord, driven by Mendez, as it was heading south on Sycamore.

The passenger-side impact tore the Honda Accord in two, according to the CHP. The car was pushed off the rural road, where it struck a tree in a nearby orchard. Torres-Zepeda, the front seat passenger, was ejected. He and Mendez were pronounced dead at the scene.

After the initial collision, the Ford Explorer struck a power pole, shearing it at its base. The CHP at the time said Gutierrez appeared to be under the influence of alcohol during the crash.

CHP officials also said Gutierrez was found standing by his vehicle. He suffered major injuries and was taken by ambulance to Doctors Medical Center in Modesto and later was transferred to Stanford Hospital in East Palo Alto.

Gutierrez spent more than a month recuperating in a hospital before he made his first court appearance in this case. On Friday, Doug Maner, Gutierrez’s attorney, said his client received extensive surgery on his arm.

While discussing his client’s ability to pay court fines and fees, Maner said the lingering affects of the crash have left Gutierrez with no ability to use the left side of his body to do any manual labor.

The defense attorney also told the judge that Gutierrez will presumably be deported out of the country if he’s released from prison on parole. He said federal immigration officials have submitted a request to detain Gutierrez for potential deportation proceedings.

Gutierrez has already served more than three years of his sentence while awaiting prosecution in the Stanislaus County Jail.

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Rosalio Ahumada writes news stories about criminal court cases in Stanislaus County for The Modesto Bee, issues related to immigration and immigrant communities and breaking news related to crime and public safety. From time to time, he covers the Modesto City Council meetings. He has worked as a news reporter in the Northern San Joaquin Valley since 2004.
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