Couple sentenced in distracted driving case

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Bennett Hall
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Article date: 
Saturday, December 15, 2012
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CORVALLIS — A couple who pleaded guilty to various charges in connection with a distracted driving crash that left a motorcyclist dead were sentenced to three years’ probation on Friday in Benton County Circuit Court, but they remained in custody awaiting possible deportation.

Veronica Avila Diaz, 28, and her husband, Jose Antonio Cejas Gutierrez, 31, have been in jail since Oct. 11 on charges stemming from a Sept. 30 collision that took the life of a 72-year-old Eugene man, Kenneth Douglas Carroll.

The wreck occurred on Highway 99W north of Monroe. Avila Diaz, who had little driving experience and no license, was behind the wheel of the couple’s Ford Windstar van, with her husband in the passenger’s seat and their three children riding with them.

According to the account presented in court, she was distracted by Cejas Gutierrez, who was photographing her with his camera phone as she drove south toward Monroe.

She started to drift off the road and then overcorrected, veering into oncoming traffic. The van struck Carroll’s motorcycle, killing him. A third vehicle, with three people inside, swerved off the road to avoid the wreck.

“Jose was taking video of her driving, asking her to look at him,” prosecutor Shani Krumholz said in court on Friday. “The last shot that was taken prior to her hitting the shoulder is a shot of her looking directly at the camera.”

In a plea bargain negotiated with the Benton County District Attorney’s Office, Avila Diaz pleaded guilty on Friday to a single felony count of criminally negligent homicide. Six misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment, related to the other people involved in the crash, were dismissed along with a charge of reckless driving.

Cejas Gutierrez pleaded guilty to hindering prosecution, also a felony, and four misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment.

The couple, who came to the United States from Mexico about nine years ago, were being held by order of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement pending further proceedings on their immigration status.