A Santa Maria Superior Court judge sentenced a Lompoc man to four years in state prison for driving drunk and causing a crash that killed a beloved husband, father and grandfather who was described as a generous, kind, big-hearted person willing to help anyone.
Isaac Valentino DeLuna, now 21, pleaded guilty last month in the case involving an Aug. 22 crash on Harris Grade Road near Burton Mesa Road.
California Highway Patrol officers said a southbound 2017 white BMW driven by DeLuna crossed into the northbound lane and slammed into a 1995 Ford pickup truck.
The truck’s driver, Benjamin Romayor, 68, of Lompoc suffered fatal injuries, and was pronounced dead at the scene of crash, which two of his daughters happened on minutes later.
Last month, DeLuna pleaded guilty to three felony charges, including gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, driving with a blood alcohol content greater than 0.08% causing injury, and driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury.
He also admitted several special allegations, including causing great bodily injury and having a blood alcohol content above 0.15%.
His blood alcohol reportedly was 0.17%, more than double the level at which a person is considered drunk under California law.
On Monday in Judge Patricia Kelly’s courtroom, 11 members of Romayor’s family spoke about the loss of their beloved husband of 46 years, father of eight and grandfather of 21.
Thirty-two members of Romayor’s family filled the courtroom, while others attended the hearing remotely, according to Deputy District Attorney Stephanie Schoenburg.
“Our lives changed dramatically Aug. 22 by the tragic loss of our father,” said Victoria Aviles, one of Romayor’s daughters.
In a world where people rarely help others, Romayor stood out as someone willing to mow a stranger’s lawn or carry a neighbor’s dog to a veterinarian appointment, his daughter said.
“My dad did small things like this. Imagine the big things he did,” she added.
Compounding the tragedy was the fact two daughters came upon the crash scene en route to work alongside their father that morning. Other family members also ended up at the scene.
“That’s a picture they will have to see every day for the rest of their life,” Aviles said.
Other relatives referred to the stupid and selfish decision that led DeLuna to drive while under the influence of alcohol after leaving his job a caregiver.
“You, Isaac DeLuna, are a murderer,” daughter Priscilla Ramirez said. “The pain we feel will never leave us. We are just learning to live with it.”
Grandson Eli Ramirez recalled how Romayor liked to dance, laugh and joke.
“I hate you. You killed my grandpa. He was a good man,” the boy said as his mom rubbed his back to support the grieving grandson.
At one point, the judge asked another grandson to describe the large framed pictures sitting on an easel at the front of the courtroom.
“They depict a happy family. My whole family smiling,” he told the judge, the images providing contrast to the same grief-filled people sitting in the audience.
After the family statements, defense attorney Michael Scott said his client had wanted to send flowers or a card to the family following the crash. However, the attorney recommended against the action due to the court case.
DeLuna also spoke to the family, remarking how many people he knew as friends and classmates who were linked to the large Romayor family.
He agreed there was no excuse for his actions Aug. 22
“I’m deeply sorry for taking your everything,” he said.
“I’m sorry I took such an amazing man from his family and from the community. I can only hope to be as great as him,” DeLuna said.
Kelly said it remained clear DeLuna’s actions would have a ripple effect for a long time, but added she believed it was a fair and just sentence based on several factors, such as a lack of criminal history and plea relatively early in the court process, avoiding a trial.
Probation officers had recommended no prison time for DeLuna, but Kelly rejected that suggestion before handing down the prison sentence.