The script for a morality play of sorts is being written.
The stage will be a San Joaquin County Superior Courtroom.
There are two tragic figures. One is a 14-year-old boy who cannot speak for himself. The other is a 19-year-old who faces prison.
The paths of Zach Gomez and Mia Aguiar tragically crossed in the wee hours of last Saturday morning.
In an instant the lives of five people that had just barely started life’s journey were changed forever.
Zach is gone, killed when the 1995 Saturn that Mia was driving veered out of the travel lane and slammed into the group he was a part of that was walking alongside East Highway 120 near Comconcex Road just outside of Manteca. Two of Zach’s friends were seriously injured while a third sustained minor injuries.
This is a multi-author morality play. One penning how it will unfold is Mia’s attorney Gil Somera.
In an irony worthy of Shakespeare’s finest stagecraft, Somera has devoted the last 10 years to the Every 15 Minutes program designed to warn teens of the fatal attractions of drinking and driving. Seniors from Zach’s school — Manteca High — were in the stands listening to the message on Thursday. Drunken driving is impaired driving but it is also distracted driving although on a different level. Part of the message that Somera helps deliver is that if a teen gets behind the wheel drunk and kills someone they could be facing prison time. It doesn’t matter, as judges participating in Every 15 Minutes in the past have told graduating seniors, if your intent wasn’t to kill someone when you climbed behind the wheel drunk. A conviction means prison.
State law doesn’t quite put distracted driving on the same level as impaired driving but it is close.
Mia is facing vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence charges.
The 19-year-old said she lost control of her vehicle when she looked over to the passenger seat to see where her cell phone was.
Somera agrees his client’s actions had horrible consequences but has made it clear this is a case that may involve jail time as what he perceives as proper punishment if she is found guilty and not prison time.
There are, as he argues, two primary victims.
His argument is not meant to devalue Zach’s life. That said, you can’t help but think that is the case.
A jury of 12 men and women may ultimately decide Mia’s fate. Unless they are imported from downtown New York City the odds are each one owns a car and drives.
Somera will be counting on them thinking, “it could have been me driving.”
The prosecutor will try mightily to remind them Zach could have been their kid or them. It will be a tougher sell. Most drivers don’t view themselves as pedestrians since they don’t rarely travel long distances on foot. They also may wonder what a 14-year-old was doing walking along a stretch of highway in what is for all practical purposes is country at 1 o’clock in the morning.
The jury will wrestle in their collective minds and hearts with this one. The law and justice may end up being two different things in their eyes.
And while no one wants to throw away a large chunk of the life of a 19-year-old who by all accounts until last Saturday was a solid citizen, they must not forget the young promising life that was ended at the hands of another.
If the CHP reports are correct, that is what Mia did. She killed Zach. It’s that blunt.
Yet most people given distance from the tragedy may not see it exactly that way.
That’s a tragedy in itself on several levels.
Obviously in a way it devalues Zach’s life and the loss of his family.
But it also would continue the wrong-headed thinking that all of us have that we are invincible behind the wheel and are capable of multi-tasking without consequences. Mia probably doesn’t think that is the case any longer.
Unfortunately until society takes a zero tolerance toward those who allow themselves to be distracted while piloting 3,000 pounds of steel capable of killing and maiming the body count won’t start dropping.
It took an ever escalating death count of innocent victims to spur a grassroots movement known as Mothers Against Drunk Driving to pressure lawmakers to increase penalties for killing others while driving drunk. Only then were inroads made in the annual body count from alcohol-related DUIs.
So here is the ultimate dilemma: Would making Mia pay the highest price possible for her actions eventually help start a trend to reduce distracted driving carnage or would having mercy simply remove an impetus for other drivers to change their habits meaning more Zachs will be killed?
In short, will justice in this case make a difference and if so, what exactly is that justice?
Is it taking it easy on a young person who perhaps should have known better but made a deadly mistake? Or is it a stiff prison sentence designed to send a message that distracted driving will not be tolerated?
One could hope for a jury — if the case gets to that point — that has the wisdom of Solomon.
Justice for Zach, no matter how it ends up, won’t be the same as justice for Mia.
The best way we can all make something good come of this is to take the picture of the smiling, happy go lucky 14-year-old boy that most of us did not know and tape it next to where we lay our car keys.
Look at Zach’s photo every time you go to drive.
And drive like Zach was your son, your friend or the kid down the street.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 209.249.3519.