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Sentencing Delayed For Santa Maria Driver Charged With Manslaughter In Pedestrian’s Death

Ismael Lares accepted plea deal, but consumed alcohol and tampered with monitoring device, which puts six-year prison term in doubt

Ismael Lares, 35, sits in a Santa Maria courtroom next to his attorney Robert Sanger on Thursday morning. Lares’ sentencing for gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated was postponed until January. Click to view larger
Ismael Lares, 35, sits in a Santa Maria courtroom next to his attorney Robert Sanger on Thursday morning. Lares’ sentencing for gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated was postponed until January. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A Santa Maria man accused of tampering with his electronic alcohol monitor while awaiting sentencing for vehicular manslaughter will wait two more months to hear whether he will spend additional time in prison.

Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge John McGregor on Thursday postponed sentencing Ismael Lares, 35, for gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.

Lares pleaded guilty to the charge stemming from the March 16, 2015 death of Gerardo “Jerry” Barragon Leon, 38, of Santa Maria in the parking lot behind Louie B’s bar on East Main Street. Leon was struck by Lares, who left the scene of the 1 a.m. incident.

After the plea deal that called for Lares to be sentenced to six years in prison, the defendant, who was out of custody, reportedly consumed alcohol and tampered with his electronic alcohol monitor on Oct. 2 and 5.

Deputy District Attorney Tristan Verburgt asked the judge to sentence Lares to the maximum of 10 years since the man violated terms of his Sept. 1 plea agreement. A sentence of six years would be the mid-term with others being either four years or 10 years under the state guidelines.

On Thursday, Lares waived his right to have a hearing on the allegation he violated the terms of his release before sentencing.

But the attorneys argued whether the original sentence under the plea deal was appropriate in light of the new violations. 

The fact the original charge involved alcohol made the new violations “all that more serious and significant to the sentencing in this case,” Verburgt told the judge Thursday morning.

“Probation’s pre-sentence report indicated the defendant appears to warrant the aggravated term,” Verburgt said. “The plea was for the mid-term but I think that definitively in light of these violations the upper term or aggravated term of 10 years is appropriate.”

However, defense attorney Robert Sanger sought to keep the six-year prison sentence.

If the court weighed whether six or 10 years were appropriate, Sanger told the judge they would have “a whole different argument we would have to address” due to his client’s low-blood alcohol level and other facts of the case.

While the court advises the defendants taking pleas that violating terms of the release means they could face the maximum sentence in prison, Sanger said the judge is not required to impose the top sentence.

“If the court were to impose the upper term based on a belief that six years was not appropriate under the original sentence, then I think we would have a right to withdraw (the plea),’” Sanger said. 

“I’m not saying that under a threatening fashion, I’m just saying technically I think we would,” Sanger added.

Saying he needed more time to review the issues, the judge ordered the attorneys and defendant to return for sentencing at 8:30 a.m. Jan. 12. 

In an emotional hearing last month, Leon’s family and friends made victim-impact statements saying they sought justice for the man who was the youngest of eight siblings.

A large contingent of Leon's family and friends returned to court complex for Thursday’s hearing.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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