A Miami man will not spend the next 27 years in prison for his role in a grisly 2014 car crash that took the life of his teenage sister and two other young men, according to reports.
Instead, Erick Betancourt, 24, will spend one night in jail, on the anniversary of the wreck, every year for the next decades, prosecutors said.
The sentencing, announced on Monday after Betancourt pleaded guilty to causing the fiery two-car wreck, was a “creative” decision by a Miami-Dade County judge, Betancourt’s lawyer told the Miami Herald.
Betancourt pleaded guilty Monday to vehicular manslaughter in the deaths of three people: His 15-year-old sister Gisele Betancourt, who was driving his Dodge Durango on the night of January 14, 2014, as well as Gabriel Hernandez, 20, and EDM producer Anthony “DJ SonicC” Rodriguez, 22.
Hernandez and Rodriguez died “engulfed in flames,” according to a spokesman for the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office, after Betancourt crashed into them, causing both cars to combust.
The tragedy unfolded in the early morning, when Rodriguez and Hernandez were headed home after going to a bonfire, while Betancourt, two friends and his sister were driving home from a wedding, according to the Herald.
Rodriguez, a DJ whose music had been featured in the video game Grand Theft Auto V and on MTV’s “The Real World,” and Hernandez were traveling northbound when Betancourt, driving 30 miles per hour over the speed limit, veered for reasons unknown into their lane and smashed into their vehicle, the Herald reports.
Both cars burst into flames, and Hernandez, Rodriguez and Gisele were fatally injured, according to Action News Jacksonville.
The other two occupants of Betancourt’s Dodge Durango, meanwhile, were badly injured.
In addition to the annual nights in jail, Betancourt will also be required to complete 10 years of probation and perform extensive community service, including volunteering at a local trauma center, cleaning up the memorial site dedicated to the victims and speaking at least six times per year about the dangers of reckless driving, the Herald reports.
Still, the families of the two men considered the sentence a slap in the face; members of each told the Miami Herald that these few nights in prison, no matter how stretched out, would never make up for the loss of the two young men who lost their lives more than four years ago.
“I’m still speechless,” Rita Rodriguez, Anthony’s mother, was quoted by the Herald as saying. “In my opinion, there is something wrong with the system. There should be some kind of consequences. Not 10 days in jail, one per year. That’s ridiculous.”
In a Facebook post following the verdict, Rodriguez expressed worry about the example this sentence might set for future cases.
“We cannot allow this to set precedence for other cases,” she wrote. “We teach our children consequences for our actions. Don't understand what went wrong here.”
But Betancourt’s family, as well as his attorney, told the Herald they thought the sentence was fair, and described Betancourt as a “model citizen” who felt genuine remorse for the deadly crash.
“The judge fashioned an incredibly reasoned, creative and amazing sentence,” his lawyer, Jonathan Schwartz, told the Herald.
[Photo Credit: Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office]
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