A Rohnert Park mother whose daughters were killed in 2016 when her car careened off the road and plunged into the Petaluma River has pleaded no contest to two counts of felony gross vehicular manslaughter, Sonoma County District Attorney officials said.
Alejandra Hernandez-Ruiz, 27, entered the plea June 14 in a tentative agreement with prosecutors. If approved by a judge, it would allow her to be released from home confinement, having already served nearly one year of incarceration in her home for the Aug. 31, 2016 crash, according to Deputy District Attorney Laura Passaglia.
A Sonoma County Superior Court judge will review the terms of the agreement Aug. 7 and issue a sentence.
“She’s accepting responsibility that this wouldn’t have happened if she’d been more careful, if she’d done something differently,” said her attorney, Izaak Schwaiger. “Nothing will make her feel worse than when she crawled out of the car without her children.”
If the judge accepts the agreement, Hernandez Ruiz will be given credit for the year she’s spent confined to her home with an ankle bracelet, and given a probation term of five years. She will be prohibited from driving during that term, Passaglia said.
The tentative settlement agreement brings closer to closure the ordeal that began for Hernandez-Ruiz and her family during what should have been a routine morning commute but resulted in a crash that killed her daughters Sayra, 7, and Delilah Gonzalez, 9.
Hernandez-Ruiz had just dropped her father off at his job in Petaluma and was headed up Petaluma Boulevard North toward her daughter’s Rohnert Park school when the CHP said she drifted into the median about 8 a.m.
Hernandez-Ruiz then overcorrected and crashed down an embankment through heavy brush, sliding into a narrow stretch of the river near the Petaluma Village Premium Outlets. The upside-down vehicle quickly sank and became submerged in about 6 feet of water.
Hernandez-Ruiz got out, but her daughters did not.
Police and firefighters dove into the water within minutes of the crash and cut the girls free of their seat belts. They were rushed to the hospital but died, despite life saving efforts.
At the time of the crash, Hernandez-Ruiz had a small amount of methamphetamine in her system and her driver’s license was suspended, officials said.
Hernandez-Ruiz passed a field sobriety test and officials didn’t suspect she was impaired. But a drug test taken about two hours later detected a small amount of methamphetamine in her system, prosecutors said. The amount — 360 nanograms per milliliter of blood about two hours after the crash — didn’t necessarily indicate she was intoxicated, but it was a greater amount than would be appropriate had she been using the substance for therapeutic purposes, according to Passaglia.
One year passed before authorities arrested Hernandez-Ruiz. In September 2017, she was charged with gross vehicular manslaughter, child endangerment and driving on a suspended license. Hernandez-Ruiz faced up to 11 years in prison if convicted.
By that time, Hernandez-Ruiz was undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment for an aggressive form of cervical cancer, which was diagnosed after the crash. Schwaiger said the treatment appears to have worked, and he’s been told she’s doing well in recovery.
“What is an acceptable resolution when a person loses the most important things in their life, when a mother loses her two children?” Schwaiger said. “The appropriate response is compassion.”