Uncertainty has clouded the lives of Jim and Ellen Atwood since last May, when the Canadian couple both lost their left legs — and nearly died — in a grisly collision between their motorcycle and an SUV in Montecito.
Walking — even survival — wasn’t guaranteed, and the once-active and carefree couple suddenly found themselves disabled and vulnerable.
They worried about housing, mounting medical bills and, most importantly, whether they would ever be able to play with their six young grandchildren again.
Amid all the questions, a Santa Barbara County Superior Court judge on Wednesday provided a measure of certainty by deciding that jail time was the appropriate punishment for the Montecito man responsible for the May 29, 2013, DUI collision.
After an emotion-packed hearing, Judge John Dobroth sentenced Martin “Leo” Maguire, 52, to nine years in state prison — the maximum allowed.
He will have to serve at least seven years before he’s eligible for parole.
Maguire’s previous history of driving under the influence was mentioned throughout the proceedings, which followed his October guilty plea to charges of driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol and special allegations of causing great bodily injury.
Ellen Atwood, 59, tearfully recounted the collision from a wheelchair in the front row of a packed Santa Barbara courtroom, with husband, Jim, 64, at her side. They both wore prosthetic legs.
She occasionally locked eyes with Maguire, who showed little emotion, sometimes nodding in agreement.
Ellen described a dream 17-day motorcycle trip through California with longtime friends Bill and Marnee Paterson — one cut dramatically short when Maguire’s Toyota 4Runner crossed the center line and struck the Atwoods head-on while they were riding on Old Coast Highway near the Montecito County Club.
Several surgeries and more than $1 million in hospital bills were just the beginning of their struggle, she said, as the Atwoods are still undergoing exhaustive rehabilitation near their home in Orangeville, Ontario.
“Our legs are gone,” she said. “Our lives will never be the same. As you stand on your two legs to listen to your sentence, I want you to understand I will never be able to do that. We can’t even go to our home. We will never ride again.”
Ellen and Jim both expressed deep sadness when thinking about the night before they left for California last year, when they played baseball in the yard with their three granddaughters.
“Who knew it would be the last time?” Ellen said. “I’ve asked myself many times from the accident ‘Why?’ and you’re the only one who can answer that question.
“Surely this time will be different, and you will learn going forward, or next time it could be a child, and it could be anyone’s child.”
Jim Atwood said the tragic story sounded like it belonged to someone else.
“Every day I face the mental anguish of the unknown,” he said. “You have taken so much from us with your selfish act.”
The Atwoods’ three grown sons and their wives have become caregivers, a humiliation for parents who were so hardworking, caring and self-sufficient.
Sons Donnie and Wayne recalled the “24 hours of hell” they endured after first receiving word of the accident. They didn’t know if their parents were still alive.
“You will never be rehabilitated, and you shouldn’t get the chance to,” Wayne said. “He deserves a long stay in jail. It’s my family’s wish that he receives the maximum sentence for his crimes.”
The Patersons, who were traveling in front of the Atwoods that day, wondered aloud why they were spared the pain and suffering of a crash they relive in their minds every day.
The family repeatedly thanked William Barbaree and Nicholas McGilvray — the two good Samaritans who happened upon the gruesome scene within seconds of the collision and immediately set to work helping the Atwoods, who call them heroes.
Both were in attendance Wednesday, and periodically glanced protectively at Ellen as if to make sure she was still OK.
Christine Voss, who was representing Maguire, made sure the court knew the defendant has been sober and in a recovery outpatient treatment program for drugs and alcohol since Dec. 9.
Maguire conveyed regret and sorrow for the grief he caused during an accident that has made him re-evaluate every aspect of his life, and he finally admitted the extent of his addiction to prescription drugs, along with the pain it causes others.
“I cannot ever forgive myself,” Maguire said. “I’m trapped forever in my mental prison. I realize that nothing is able to fix, resolve or undo my actions … I’m sorry. I really am.”
Senior Deputy District Attorney Arnie Tolks asked that Maguire be given the maximum sentence based on past offenses. He was previously in trouble for driving while impaired in 1996 and 2009, when the charge was reduced to reckless driving.
“He knew better,” Tolks said during an impassioned speech. “He chose to drink, he chose to drive while on his medications. Two people were almost killed. What’s so frightening about this whole thing is that other people weren’t hurt even before that.”
Voss said she wouldn’t make excuses for her client, and asked only that Dobroth consider probation and a drug-rehab program instead of prison, since Maguire is the sole caretaker for his elderly mother.
“This isn’t about chances,” she said. “This is about justice.”
Dobroth thoughtfully addressed both sides before handing down the sentence as a cautionary tale for those who scoff at the consequences of drinking and driving. Maguire must also pay a to-be-determined amount of restitution.
“Really, in the end, he had the choice to get in the car, and he got in the car, and that’s really bad,” the judge said. “One of the effects (of drug use) is you lose judgment, and when you lose judgment, you lose the ability to say, ‘I shouldn’t be getting in the car.’”
As Maguire was handcuffed and taken into custody, his mother cried out for mercy and for Dobroth to keep her son from prison.
“I’m afraid there’s nothing you’re going to be able to do to change the fact that he did something horrible,” the judge said.
Silence fell as Maguire’s mother left the courtroom.
“I think there are no winners,” Ellen said outside, surrounded by relieved family and friends heading to lunch at Jane Restaurant
They invited their new American friends and heroes, who, in spite of the tragedy, have certainly gained lifelong friends.
— Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.