Hit-and run driver sentenced

cpride@losbanosenterprise.comFebruary 7, 2014 

The man who killed an Army reservist in a March hit-and-run crash has been sentenced.

Jesse Ryan Fuentes, 24, was given three years in prison by Merced County Superior Court Judge Harry Jacobs in a Los Banos courtroom on Friday. Fuentes is being given credit for 557 days (279 of which he’s spent in custody) and is scheduled to be released in the summer of 2015.

Fuentes faced a maximum of four years in prison.

In May Fuentes pleaded guilty to felony hit and run causing death and misdemeanor driving on a suspended license. Fuentes was driving his father’s pickup March 16when he hit and killed Fernando Buenrostro Jr., 18, who was driving a motorized scooter near Cardinal Street and Fairmont Drive. Fuentes was found and arrested by police four days later when his father was spotted driving the damaged truck on Mercey Springs Road.

Fuentes gave an apology to Buenrostro’s family.

“The reason I didn’t stop, I blacked out and I’d never been in a situation like that. I made the biggest mistake of my life,” Fuentes said. “Sorry for everything that’s happened. If I could do anything to take it back I would take it back, but there’s nothing I could do.”

His mother Gina Fuentes said her 3-year-old granddaughter doesn’t understand why her father has only spoken with her on the phone the past several months.

Fuentes’ family asked Jacobs for leniency, stating the Buenrostro had some responsibility in his own death because he ran a stop sign while on the scooter. Fuentes’ father, Jesse Ryan Sr., and the family’s pastor, Gabriel Escobar, said that counseling to deal with causing someone’s death, not a prison sentence, was necessary.

Buenrostro’s mother, Elizabeth, spoke through an interpreter of the emotional pain of her son’s death as she held his picture and cried.

“He (Fuentes) is here. He’s going to get a chance to see his daughter grow. He’s going to go ahead with his life and all I have left is this photograph,” she said. “They want their son to be out of here. I want my son to return.”

Fernando Buenrostro Sr., the victim’s father, said he was pleased with the sentence Fuentes received.

“It was the right decision,” he said.

Buenrostro Sr. said he was disappointed Fuentes’ family said his son was responsible.

“I hate that we’re playing the blame game like that. I remember myself saying the first couple times on TV ‘Man-up and come out. Don’t make it harder for yourself. Don’t blame somebody else,’” he said.

Deputy Public Defender Todd McLean said he was disappointed in the sentence his client received.

“I thought the sentence was a little stiff. I do think he should have been granted probation,” McLean said. “I thought Jesse’s lack of a criminal record, his ties to the community, I thought he was in the criteria of getting probation.”

The Merced County Probation Department recommended probation for Fuentes in July.

Deputy District Attorney Travis Colby said Fuentes should have stopped after he hit Buenrostro.

“This crime is from when the defendant fled and left the scene. He didn’t take responsibility, although this was an accident that made it worse,” Colby said.

He said sentencing for these types of cases always leave a void.

“You can never be satisfied with a sentence because it can never bring back the loved one they lost,” he said.

Los Banos Enterprise reporter Corey Pride can be reached at (209)826-3831, ext. 6563 or by email atcpride@losbanosenterprise.com.

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