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The Wheels of Justice Slowly Begin to Turn in the Hit-and-Run that Killed Andy Garcia

She made the decision to drink. She ran over me and my two friends, and she fled. She killed a friend of mine. My back and other bones were broken, and I was out of work for three months, recounted Mario Lopez (in Spanish, above), to a reporter from Canal 22 yesterday.

He was one of several victims hit by 21-year-old Wendy Villegas in the incident that killed Luis "Andy" Garcia last September.

Villegas had come flying up the bridge on Cesar Chavez that fateful night, knocking Lopez aside, slamming into Garcia and dragging his bike several hundred feet underneath her car, and launching Ulises Melgar into the air so high he nearly flew over the bridge railing to the river below, all while friends Richie Berumen and Jose Vasquez watched helplessly.

But, I am going to keep fighting, Lopez continued, and I am going to campaign so that people know that we are here and we are going to achieve justice for Andy.

And, with that, the riders that had gathered at dawn at Montebello City Park pedaled off toward the courthouse in downtown L.A. to confront Villegas once again.

It was about time.

Garcia's family had flown in from Texas last month only to see the preliminary hearing postponed for the second time.

New evidence had been entered that both parties needed to review, Garcia's mother had explained.

At the time, she also said that, while she understood that this was how the justice system worked, it was still very painful. Not least because they had seen no expression of remorse from Villegas. In fact, the only regret they heard from her seemed to be linked to the requirement that she wear an ankle monitor; her lawyer had complained this was a hardship -- sartorial and otherwise -- for a young college student to endure.

Thursday's hearing brought hope that Garcia's family and friends might finally see justice.

The judge rejected the request of Villegas' lawyer to waive the jail time in the plea deal -- a term of 3 years and 8 months -- and just give her probation.

She needed to take responsibility for her actions, the attorney was told.

Villegas has a couple of weeks to think about whether or not she wants to take the deal or let the case go to trial. The new court date has been set for March 20th at 8 a.m.

Assuming both Villegas and her lawyer realize that the lack of empathy from the judge won't bode well for how Villegas would be seen by a jury of her peers, they will probably take the plea offer.

It's not a bad deal for her.

The typical sentence for a felony hit-and-run resulting in serious permanent injury or death (meaning, somebody dies), generally only brings a prison term of between 24 and 48 months. If the driver was intoxicated, and that can be proven (it often can’t, as many are not caught right away), 5 years are added to whatever sentence is handed down. Because of the number of victims involved and the fact that she was still intoxicated when booked the morning following the incident, she was looking at a minimum of 5 – 7 years and a maximum of 10 – 15.

If she agrees to the plea, she will likely only serve a couple years of her sentence. Doing the math, the deal -- time-wise, at least -- would forgive the drunk driving and the fact that she left others in the road for dead besides Garcia.

For her other victims and Garcia's friends, that is not an easy pill to swallow.

In a letter inviting supporters to join them at the courthouse on Thursday, Lopez lamented the fact that pedestrians and cyclists killed or injured in hit-and-runs are seen more like collateral damage than victims of violence.

"Making the decision to leave anyone for dead, whether a vehicle or a gun was used, should carry the same heavy hand of the law..."

If you'd like to keep up with Garcia's case, check in with them here or here. The next court date will be March 20th.

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