On June 12, 2010, a young lady named Destanee Arlene Little lost her life to a drunk driver.
In anticipation of sentencing, Destanee’s parents Barbie and Matt Little asked friends to submit statements to the Judge to consider in his decision. I had known Barbie for almost fifteen years, having worked with her through Destanee’s youth.
Benjamin Serratos, the Defendant, approached the hearings and his future with a brazen bravado that could only come from a creature so wildly self-absorbed that even being placed in a cell for the rest of his life on First Degree Murder charges would not have wiped the smirk that he used to hide his sickness, an even more vile creature having eaten its way through his insides throughout his life.
Well, in keeping with my “style”, I contributed my thoughts.
To the Honorable San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Seth Hoyt Jr.:
One of the things I love about living in ——— is having a park system that spreads through the community east of the highway. Virtually everyone lives within a few short blocks of a well maintained oasis from the architectural monotony that marks virtually all developments built within the past two or three decade. Some of the parks have walking/biking trails that connect these spiritual retreats, the pastoral silence of which is almost enough to drown out the sound of the massive SUVs cutting off the economy sedans at 75 MPH a short distance away on Highway 99.
One of those walks takes you from C———– Park (a block and a half from our home on ———— Avenue) behind a serene suburban landscape to E————- Park (barely three blocks in the other direction from our home). It served as the perfect recreational respite for me after a day of pushing papers and serving the public of ———– County, quality time to spend with my boxer Sundance, my grandson or both.
There’s a small, humble memorial maybe one hundred yards from the E———— Park entrance to the trail. A young man named A———– whose body was found on November 5, 2005 in a small drainage creek alongside the trail. He had been missing since October 26th.
The subsequent investigation determined he had been beaten and drowned over a drug deal gone bad.
A simple headstone, surrounded by native flora, small bouquets, handwritten notes and and a football early on, marks the spot where A——’s fifteen-year-old body was found, breaking the spiritual serenity offered by the path.
The first time I passed the memorial was November 5, 2006. It was just a Sunday morning, and I just needed to stretch my legs, loosen up the back I would trash sitting in an office cubicle or on a courthouse bench forty hours a week, and give Sundance a needed escape from being chased around our house by my grandson. Our floors were terra cotta tiles, Sundance was ancient and the wheels on the Josiah’s walker made sure our trusted friend was no match for our precious toddler.
The reason I can remember the exact date is that before my buddy and I left for our walk, I had watched the reports on CNN of the conviction of Saddam Hussein on charges of Crimes Against Humanity.
The nineteen-year-old who was convicted of murdering A—— was a flea on the wall compared to Iraq’s demonic despot and I would never consider comparing the specifics of Aaron’s killer’s crime to the heinous history of Hussein’s horrific holocaust.
What wouldn’t leave me was the phrase “Crimes Against Humanity”, a succinct summation of Saddam’s rampage.
At the very least, I thought, what had been done in the taking of A——’s promising life was a Crime Against Community.
No more than fifty feet from A——’s body, face down in the creek, there was an archetypical 4BR/3BA/LR/DR/FR home of your average Californian mother and father: 1.95 children, $172,000.00 balance on their mortgage, an SUV and an economy sedan and likely a dog. The last bastion of The American Dream.
While Aaron was robbed of a productive seventy-or-so years, the people close enough to have heard the struggle leading to his last breaths were robbed of much of the safety of their Dream.
On June 12, 2010 a countless number of people were robbed of the same safety by Benjamin Serratos, the only difference being that A——’s killer had the nerve to look his victim in the eye. In the past, Mr. Serratos had gotten no farther than virtually slicing a man’s ear off.
Destanee Little had no inclination she was about to take her last breath. She had no sense of the mere seconds remaining in her promising life.
She was returning home with two friends after having spent the evening in one of the frightfully few innocent, wholesome and worthwhile environments and endeavors offered to caring, giving teenagers in this day and age, talking and laughing with them, creating more lifelong memories for them, touching their lives as only she could and then she was dead.
It was an unfortunate and, indeed, an isolated incident, but isolated only in the sense that it was the first time Mr. Serratos left a lifeless victim on the side of an isolated stretch of the road.
I’m not a betting man, but the empirical validity of statistical analysis says that this was not one of the only three times Mr. Serratos ever operated a motor vehicle (or boat) while gravely under the influence of alcohol.
There’s no way of telling how many people as innocent as Destanee had no inclination that they barely escaped taking their last breath at the hands-on-the-wheel of the man who ultimately killed Destanee through his thoughtless, self-centered and irresponsible actions that night.
There’s no way of telling how many of those people might have had their children in their cars.
No way of ascertaining the loss of the potential contributions of several members of the community if Mr. Serratos’ apparent luck had run out sooner than it did and he broadsided a van.
No way to determine the family or families who earlier would have been devastated the way Barbie and Matt Little have been.
That might have saved Destanee’s life, but by the same token the loss of Destanee might have saved the lives of the loving parents of four young children the following night, weekend or quarter mile.
It has been said that that which is not impossible is inevitable, and Mr. Serratos had likely started down the long stretch of road that ended at Destanee’s tail lights years before. It was a continuous journey of wanton disregard for the safety, the quality of life and the very lives of others. Had that night gone differently it is no stretch of the imagination it would have been followed by another morning on which “Big Ben” woke up with no memories of having driven home, then another night of driving home with his own tank filled to a greater capacity than his car, his weapon would be.
This is a man who reportedly expected to be out of jail by the end of 2010, likely expecting never to return again because “Malo” was untouchable, and there has yet to be any remorse shown by Mr. Serratos that would indicate he would not just start the car back up where he last left it, throwing away the keys and running off into the moonlight.
The Court is bound by certain sentencing guidelines related to the counts and the convictions of the original charges. A certain leeway of sorts is created by “Special Circumstances” specified in the charges, by the findings of the jury, and by the knowledge and insight of the Bench. I have never heard of either a charge or a finding of “Crimes Against Community”, but I suppose that could be looked at as more of a moral than a legal issue or concept. Sentencing, in a sense, is a combination of both legal and moral considerations.
I’m sure the Court will hear that Mr. Serratos is a responsible, loving, dedicated father and a respected member of the business community. Until there is evidence that he ever drove under the influence with his children in his car or negotiated a mortgage for a family who couldn’t really afford it there’s no reason to believe he isn’t. Being what you’re supposed to be, acting like you’re supposed to act, living the way you’re supposed to live doesn’t give you brownie points, and it certainly isn’t grounds for a “Get out of Jail Free” card. Doing business honorably is an obligation. Being a compassionate, caring father is a calling. They don’t make for “Special Circumstances”.
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