Lacey Strange, 18, was sentenced on Monday to 120 days in county jail after pleading no contest to a charge of vehicular manslaughter in the death of 56-year-old Rebecca Vegas. The accident occurred in Lompoc last May when Strange, somehow distracted, struck Vegas as she was crossing the street in a marked crosswalk near the intersection of Ocean Avenue and J Street.
Judge Frank Ochoa also sentenced Strange to three years of supervised probation, an automatic loss of her license, and 100 hours of community service. As requested by the victim’s family and friends, her community service will focus on lecturing to high school students and others about the dangers of distracted driving.
Strange, who is the daughter of a Lompoc police sergeant, spoke to members of Vegas’s family for the first time on Monday. She expressed remorse through intermittent sobs. “I never knew how much damage one person could do until that person was me,” she said. “I don’t blame everyone for hating me – I’d hate me too.” As she continued to express her regret, the courtroom became very emotional for many present. “I’m so sorry for causing so much trouble and heartache. … I would take it back in a heartbeat.”
The Vegas family conveyed mixed feelings of forgiveness and anger. Vegas’s sister Carol Garcia Terrones revealed frustration about accusations made against Vegas’s close friends and family as they pushed for an investigation in the wake of the accident. “What did we do?” she asked. “All of a sudden we’re the bad people here because she was there and took the life of my sister. All of a sudden we’re against the police department. … We feel like outsiders now. … It’s wrong. We did nothing wrong.”
Terrones went on to empathize with Strange. “I feel bad for her,” she said. “I don’t want to see her ruined, but at the same time, to this day, we’ve never heard, ‘I’m sorry I took your sister.’ She took her by her action. It’s been eight months with no apology, no responsibility.”
One of Vegas’s sons, Jonathan Paul, spoke next about his mother. “I felt so lucky growing up, and then before you know it you have family of your own,” he said. “I looked forward to having my mom there to help me raise a girl. I’m not here to ask for anything because what I want you can’t give me. This was a totally irresponsible and preventable accident.”
Daniel Vegas III, another of Vegas’s sons, tried to hold his voice steady as he spoke to Strange about his mother. “She didn’t get to see her grandchildren grow up, take care of her mother, walk her oldest son down the aisle. If you were to ask me if she would forgive you, my answer is yes, Lacey, and I too will [forgive you] in time.”
After the hearing, Daniel commented on Strange’s apology. “I think she was very sincere,” he said. “I deal with the public and I can tell when people aren’t honest. She’s just young and this is just a horrible thing she’ll have to live with the rest of her life. I feel for her.”
Glancing at the wet weather outside the courthouse, he went on: “My parents used to say that when it rains outside angels are crying. Well, angels are crying for both our families today.”