Martin Maguire appears in court for his sentencing Wednesday morning
Paul Wellman

Martin “Leo” Maguire, the man who crossed a double yellow line and crashed his SUV head-on into a couple riding their motorcycle on Old Coast Highway last May, was sentenced Wednesday in Santa Barbara Superior Court to nine years in state prison. Maguire, 51, had pleaded guilty last October to felony driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs and inflicting great bodily harm. He also admitted to a prior DUI conviction. The two victims, Canadian residents Ellen and Jim Atwood, both lost their left legs in the collision. The District Attorney’s Office did not offer Maguire a plea deal in the case.

The Atwoods flew down from Canada for Maguire’s sentencing, and supporters for both the couple and Maguire packed the courtroom. The husband and wife had had been making their way down the coast on a red motorcycle last May — their “dream vacation”— when they were nearly fatally struck. They were traveling with their good friends Bill and Marnee Paterson, also present in the courtroom.

Sitting in the first row, both Ellen and Jim Atwood read aloud a victim impact statement — District Attorney Joyce Dudley and victim-witness advocate Joan Fairfield patted their backs the whole time — and told Maguire how their lives have forever changed since May 29, 2013.

“The moments leading up to the accident, the sun was shining, it was a picture-perfect day. I remember looking out and seeing the car emblem come at me,” Ellen said. “Each of us lay on the road calling for each other in the most excruciating pain you can imagine. Since those few seconds of madness, we have endured seven months of pain.”

“Seconds before our lives crossed, we were both whole in the body and mind,” Ellen went on. “We returned home deeply uncertain of our future, casualties of your irresponsible act. Our legs are gone; our lives will never be the same. We have lost our security. We feel we no longer can protect ourselves. You have left us completely vulnerable.” Ellen added that Maguire’s $17,000 insurance plan does not come close to covering their $1 million in hospital bills. She spent six months in a hospital.

Jim also read aloud a statement and acknowledged two young men — William Barbaree and Nicholas McGilvray — who assisted the pair at the scene immediately after the collision. Barbaree and McGilvray both attended the sentencing. The Atwoods’ adult sons and daughter-in-law also spoke, telling Maguire his “careless” and “selfish” decision left their parents homeless — they had to move out of their newly purchased two-story house — and disabled.

Maguire also spoke — once facing the victims and once to Judge John Dobroth — and apologized to the Atwoods. He said his “mental anguish” has caused him so much pain and forced him to reevaluate his life. “The burden I’ve put on myself is greater than a judge could put on me,” he said. His expression remained stern throughout the four-hour hearing.

Prosecutor Arnie Tolks told the judge that Maguire was well aware of the effects of his prescription drugs, as evident by a previous conviction that stemmed from an incident that occurred one morning at 9:00 a.m. in 2009. Alcohol was not a factor in that accident. Tolks reasoned that Maguire should know that consuming alcohol with his medication — the same prescription he was on in 2009 — would seriously impair his ability to drive. “He didn’t know he had a problem? I don’t buy it.”

Maguire’s blood-alcohol content measured 0.03 at the scene, and he had reportedly told officers that he had only had one beer at lunch. “I don’t know what he drank, but he was impaired,” Tolks argued, adding that officials found “three empties and one full one in his car.” He further disputed a previous argument that he was the victim of overprescribing doctors. “Prescriptions have labels,” he said. “The fact he drank at all [on the medication] is shocking,” Tolks added.

Defense Attorney Christine Voss did not speak at length on the actual accident, as she said her client does not deny much of what Tolks said. She called prescription drug use for medical conditions a “complex” issue but explained that Maguire does not intend to make excuses. She said Maguire — who has been out on bail — is incredibly remorseful, has attended Narcotics Anonymous meetings, and has tried to “put his ducks in a row.” She asked the judge to grant Maguire probation time because “imprisonment would have a trickle-down effect to his family” as he is the one who cares for his elderly mother.

Before handing down the maximum sentence, Judge Dobroth commended both attorneys and said every person deserves a “zealous defense.” But in the end, he said, Maguire made the choice to get in the car while impaired and that granting probation would not set the right example for the public. “Collective impact does move society,” he said. “That’s part of why we’re here.” Maguire will serve at least 85 percent of his nine-year sentence, and the amount of restitution he will pay is still to be determined.

As a bailiff detained Maguire, his mother, Carmen Maguire, stood up from her wheelchair and objected. “Your honor, there is no one to help me or to pay my rent,” she declared. Dobroth allowed her to come forward to speak.

She told the judge that her son came to her aid after her husband died and her chronic illness worsened. Her Social Security Income is not enough to support her, she said, and her other relatives live out of town. “I’m desperate,” she said. A family member eventually consoled her and took her out of the courtroom. Weeping friends and family members — for both the defendant and the victims — poured out of the courtroom.

“There’s no winners here,” Ellen Atwood said outside. This week, the couple — who both wear prosthetic legs — will finish their vacation that ended tragically last May, travel south to Venice, then catch a plane home.


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