Ranchos de Taos man sentenced for fatal DUI crash

May 13, 2018 GMT

David Santistevan, 36, of Ranchos de Taos, was sentenced to 10 years in prison Friday after pleading guilty to killing a Forth Worth, Texas, man in 2016 while driving drunk on the wrong side of Interstate 40 near Edgewood.

Prosecutor Todd Bullion said Santistevan was driving about 100 mph when he slammed into the vehicle carrying Geoffrey McRae, 29, and his younger brother, Joel Taylor McRae, who were on their way to a wedding in Utah.

In the final moments before the crash, Geoffrey McRae’s mother, Anne Rowe, told the court Friday, her son extended his arm to shield his younger brother and turned the wheel to take the full force of the impact upon himself.

Nine members of Geoffrey McRae’s family traveled to Santa Fe to testify at Santistevan’s plea and sentencing hearing.

They did not condemn Santistevan, but offered him their forgiveness and hope for his healing.

“David, I forgive you,” Rowe said to Santistevan. “My sincere desire … is that you seek and find forgiveness for yourself.”

Through the testimony of his family members, the court learned that Geoffrey McRae had been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a devoted son and grandson, a beloved husband, the adoring father of three children — including a son born just two months before his death — a role model to his siblings, including his blind younger sister, and a supportive and inspirational friend.

When Santistevan crashed into McRae, said his father, David McRae, “he took the life of someone that would have been his friend.”

“My heart goes out to David [Santistevan] and his parents,” David McRae said. “We are forever joined now.”

Joel Taylor McRae testified about the final moments of his brother’s life: the sound of crumpling metal and shattering glass, and the “terror and disbelief” he experienced during the ordeal.

“I can still see the blood, the metal and my brother mangled in that accident, in that crash,” Joel McCray said.

Geoffrey McRae’s widow, McKinzie McRae, testified about trying to come to terms with her now uncertain future and witnessing the pain of her children, including a daughter who for months after the incident only laughed when she was asleep and a now 2-year-old son who had no concept of the word “daddy” and could not identify his father in family photos.

“I have no anger or negative feelings against David [Santistevan], but I worry that this could happen again,” she said.

Santistevan’s 10-year-prison sentence was part of a negotiated plea deal. Under the terms of the deal, he pleaded guilty to homicide by vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs, and bodily injury by vehicle for the injuries caused to Joel McRae, a stepped-down charged from the count of great bodily injury he originally faced.

Under the terms of his plea deal, Santistevan will be eligible to earn day-for-day good time credit that could cut his sentence in half.

At the time of the crash, homicide by vehicle was classified as a third-degree felony, carrying a maximum penalty of six years in prison. The law has since been changed, making homicide by vehicle a second-degree felony. Had Santistevan committed the crime just a few months later, he could have been sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.

Santistevan’s sentence was enhanced by four years because of the fact that he had one prior DWI conviction in 2014 in Taos.

Bullion said blood-alcohol and breath-alcohol tests after the 2016 accident measured the alcohol in Santistevan’s system at 0.20 percent and 0.26 percent, respectively, more than two and three times the legal threshold for intoxication in New Mexico, which stands at 0.08 percent.

Santistevan’s father also addressed the court, apologizing for what happened and saying part of the reason his son had developed a drinking problem was that he had suffered from serious back pain for the better part of his life.

Santistevan’s defense attorney, Ian King, said his client had been wearing a Soberlink device for most of the two years since the crash, which tested his blood-alcohol level multiple times a day. In approximately 3,000 tests, King said, Santistevan has never once tested positive for alcohol, nor has he violated the conditions of his pretrial release.

Santistevan faced the McRae family when he addressed the court.

“If there was any way to give my life for his, I would,” he said. “Because of this, I will never touch another drop of alcohol for the rest of my life.”

The two broken families met outside the courtroom following the hearing, where McRae’s wife tearfully embraced Santistevan’s mother and father, while her three small children scampered about the hallway.