Our View: No punishment is enough in Sabrina Distura case
The skies of Los Banos brooded on the day Sabrina Distura was sentenced for the deaths of two Nevada Union High School students.
Intermittent rain and gray landscapes greeted those who drove almost 200 miles from Grass Valley to the Central Valley town. They trudged up a flight of stairs in an unfamiliar courtroom, took their seats in Merced County Superior Court and waited for the proceeding to begin.
If not for Distura’s actions on March 25, 2018, they never would have stepped foot inside that courthouse.
It was near Los Banos on that day when Distura, 22, drove across the median of Interstate 5 and struck the vehicle driven by Tyler Nielson, 17, and carrying Justin Gardner, 16, and Dawson Fay. Nielson and Gardner died. Fay suffered serious injuries.
Excepting a brief release shortly after her arrest, Distura remained jailed since March 25. It’s expected she’ll stay incarcerated for another four years as she serves her 10-year sentence.
California has plenty of fuzzy math when criminal prison sentences are considered. The judge could have sentenced Distura to a minimum of probation to a maximum of 12 years. He opted for two 10-year sentences, which will run concurrently.
Distura’s crimes — gross vehicular homicide while intoxicated — fall into a category that gives her day-for-day credit. Ten years to serve means she’ll serve five. She’s already been behind bars almost a year. She’s got four more to go.
This judge is fortunate he’s not on the Nevada County bench. If he were he’d certainly face an opponent over this sentence in the next election.
The victims’ mothers, Franca Nielson and Kim Browning, know the law. They know Distura’s possible sentence spanned a wide range.
Franca Nielson said she was happy with the “double-digit” sentence, but pointedly mentioned Distura would serve only half of it. Browning said “it’s never enough,” saying nothing could make things right.
It’s true that Distura can never make this right, but she should spend the rest of her life working toward that goal.
Distura said as much at her Feb. 13 sentencing. She vowed never to again drink and drive. She also wants to one day start a foundation in dedication of Nielson and Gardner for at-risk youth.
If only her sentence could have included those provisions.
Separating Distura from society for five years isn’t enough punishment. Once released she needs to make amends, repeatedly, by sharing her story and hopefully changing the lives of others who consider getting behind the wheel while drunk.
We know the sentence is imposed and done. Distura will serve her five years and be released.
There will be no harsh penalties for a relapse after she’s free. No life imprisonment if she ever again gets drunk and drives.
There should be. But there won’t.
Distura must live with her actions for the rest of her life, as she should. The families and friends of Tyler and Justin have to live with their loss. Our community must live with the absence of two rising stars whose futures promised not just great things, but great men.
Brood on that for awhile.
Our View is the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.
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