During a sentencing hearing Friday morning for a former airman who pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter, a Lompoc couple’s sobbing son shared about the traumatic loss of his parents in the 2016 crash that also injured him.
The tearful testimony in Santa Barbara County Superior Court occurred during the victim impact statements portion of the sentencing hearing for Shaquille Lindsey, 26, of Georgia.
In January, Lindsey pleaded guilty to a pair of gross vehicular manslaughter charges stemming from the crash that killed Ruben Betancourt, 51, and his wife, Bertha, on Aug. 28, 2016.
Prosecutors alleged that Lindsey had alcohol and marijuana in his system plus had been using his cellphone and speeding when he crossed the double yellow lines on Santa Lucia Canyon Road. The defense team denied the alcohol, marijuana and cellphone allegations.
Under a plea deal, Lindsey was sentenced to 180 days in jail and three years of felony probation. Among other terms of his sentence, Lindsey’s driver’s license was suspended for three years.
On Friday morning, Juan Carlos Betancourt recalled being loaded into the ambulance and hearing the paramedics report on the crash victims’ conditions.
“I hear them say two code greens were going to be transported to the hospital and two code blacks,” he said. “After hearing that code black, my body did not known how to react. … A few minutes later, it came to me what it meant, and I felt my heart and soul break.”
“I experienced the worst pain ever. I had lost both of my parents,” he said, adding that he thought of his three siblings and other family members.
In addition to physical injuries, including a fractured sternum and ribs plus internal bleeding, he said he remains haunted by the crash and still deals with nightmares and depression.
Surgical scars serve as regular reminders of the family’s loss, Betancourt said.
“It reminds me of how I miss them, how I want to see them, how I want to hear them, how I want to kiss them and hug them, but all I have left is a piece of concrete on the ground and a visit to the cemetery,” he said.
One of the Betancourts’ daughters, Teresa Servin, recalled her mom as “tiny but feisty, and she was very lovable.”
Ruben Betancourt had been active helping others involved in recovery programs for alcohol addiction.
“I know that he saved a lot of lives,” Servin added.
“They didn’t have any education, but they were very wise,” she said of her parents.
Son-in-law Luis Servin recalled Ruben and Bertha Betancourt being hardworking, lovable, caring individuals.
“We will always have this pain. We will always be heartbroken,” he said.
He also criticized the sentence that Lindsey received.
“If this is the best our criminal justice can do, I find that offensive. I find that demeaning,” he said. “We’ve been dragged through court for four years, and for us to know that defendant will only get six (months) is just unbelievable.”
Lindsey, who had been discharged from the Air Force because of marijuana usage, according to court documents, returned to the Central Coast that weekend to celebrate his birthday.
The case initially landed in the federal court system after a federal grand jury indicted Lindsey, but a judge later agreed with the defense challenge based on jurisdictional issues.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Julian Andre and Joanna Curtis were sworn in as special deputy district attorneys to continue prosecuting the case after charges were filed in Santa Maria Superior Court.
During the pre-trial hearings, the defense team, which included the defendant’s mother, Georgia attorney Stephanie Lindsey, challenged the collection, handling and testing of Lindsey’s blood.
At Judge Patricia Kelly’s suggestion, Andre discussed the negotiated plea, noting that many people interviewed spoke highly of the defendant.
“The issue here, though, is Mr. Lindsey did break the law. He made decisions, that night before the collision and the morning of, that ultimately cost two people their lives, and you just heard it has had a devastating impact on the entire Betancourt family,” Andre said.
Throughout the case, defense attorneys had challenged the Air Force’s handling and testing of Lindsey’s blood.
After the victim impact statements, defense attorney Jon Artz argued that his client should avoid jail time since he had dealt with travel restrictions, testing and other terms while he remained out of custody as the case moved through federal court.
“That time does not transfer to this jurisdiction,” the judge said.
The defense attorney also sought the judge’s order to allow Lindsey to serve his time in Georgia, but Kelly rejected that request. She also agreed that Lindsey should be subjected to searches of his electronic devices.
“I do find there is a nexus on the underlying facts of this case,” she said.
At the end of the hearing, Shaquille Lindsey expressed remorse for his actions.
“There hasn’t been a day gone by that I haven’t thought and prayed for Mr. Ruben, Ms. Bertha and Juan, the remaining of their loved ones and friends,” he said. “I know every court appearance that I have been present for I wanted to speak to you all and let you know how I deeply sorry I was for taking away the people that you held near and dear to your hearts.”
He said his father instilled the importance of owning up to his mistakes.
“One thing I want you guys to know is that I was not impaired when the accident took place, nor was I on the phone,” he said, adding that he briefly took his eyes off the road to look at the scenery. “I pray that you all can accept my sincere apology and understand that I never intended to cause harm to anyone.”