A former correctional employee charged with drunken driving and causing a crash on Highway 154 was led away in handcuffs Friday morning from a Santa Maria courtroom minutes after a victim said his action left her “like a broken rag doll.”
Javier Jonathan Antunez, 46, of Goleta pleaded guilty in Santa Maria Superior Court in March to felony driving under the influence causing injury, and admitted a great bodily injury sentencing enhancement, according to the California Attorney General’s Office.
Antunez, then a jail lieutenant for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, was accused of causing the head-on crash involving three vehicles on Highway 154 near Lake Cachuma in 2019.
The California Highway Patrol said that Antunez was driving eastbound in a BMW with one passenger when the vehicle slammed head-on into a westbound Toyota Tacoma driven by Enrique Calderon-Mendez of Santa Barbara.
The driver of a third vehicle, a Santa Barbara woman at the wheel of a westbound Jeep, could not avoid the wreckage and struck the rear of the Toyota.
On Friday morning, Judith Hall, who was airlifted from the crash after being critically injured while riding as a passenger in Calderon-Mendez’s vehicle, delivered an emotional victim impact statement in court, describing hours of surgeries and physical therapy because of her extensive injuries, including “bloodless decapitation.”
“On Sept. 14, the defendant decided to drive on Highway 154 while intoxicated. He thought he was above the law and decided to put everyone’s life in danger,” Hall said. “He made the decision to drink and drive even though he knew better. Yet, he decided to not only change his life, but also destroy mine.
“Does he even know what he did to us? Does he know that I died three times? Does he know I suffered a bloodless decapitation? My head came off my spine.”
Because of her injuries, doctors removed parts of her small intestines and colon. She lost teeth and had a collapsed lung along with a broken sternum, clavicle, foot and ribs. One of her many surgeries lasted 14 hours, she said.
“My head was fused onto my body with rods, plates and screws. Those will never come out,” she said, adding that she most likely will have to have them replaced and has limited movement of her head.
“I will, for the rest of my life, be disabled,” said Hall, who worked as an investigator for the District Attorney’s Office.
Doctors told Hall that most people who experience a bloodless decapitation die or are paralyzed.
While her daughter didn’t have her mother for more than a year because of recovery, the defendant went to Disneyland with his family — “no care in the world.”
“He’s a selfish man,” she said, adding that the man she once considered a friend had only cared about seeking the best deal for his court case.
She also noted that other victims in the crash continue to deal with the aftermath of their own injuries.
“Dolores (Gutierrez) will forever live with a stent in her head, the pain that he caused. Enrique (Calderon-Mendez) will never have normal eyesight in his eyes because of this crime. And Evelia (Dominguez) will always suffer from pain,” Hall said.
She objected to the six-year sentence and asked the judge to toss out the plea deal, saying that the victims feel the system failed them.
“I didn’t choose to be serving a life sentence. He made that decision for me,” Hall said. “For the rest of my life I will be living with rods holding my head onto my body.”
The state handled the prosecution since Hall worked for the District Attorney’s Office.
“Quite frankly, he should be held to a higher standard and he should pay a higher price for what he’s done,” Hall said.
Deputy Attorney General Jonathan Kline led the prosecution while Josh Lynn represented Antunez.
After hearing from Hall, Judge John McGregor said a six-year sentence was within the normal range for this type of case.
“There is no sentence adequate to compensate for the pain and suffering of the injured parties. Nothing I can say or do in any way will ease your pain,” McGregor said, noting Hall’s strength.