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Crime Scene
Posted at 11:07 AM ET, 03/18/2011

2 years for woman in deadly crash that injured soccer star

A 23-year-old Clarksville woman accused of killing her friend and severely injuring D.C. United soccer player Charlie Davies in a drunk driving accident was sentenced to two years in prison by a federal judge in Alexandria.

Maria Alejandra Espinoza pleaded guilty in November to charges of involuntary manslaughter and maiming while driving intoxicated. A passenger, Ashley Roberta of Phoenix, Md., was killed in the accident.

Davies, who was a passenger in the back seat of the vehicle, suffered serious injuries and is only recently returning to play for D.C. United after a series of surgeries and months of rehabilitation.

Espinoza was expected to get a sentence of three to four years because of sentencing guidelines.

In emotional pleas to U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton, Roberta’s parents and godparents described Roberta as a hard working, generous and upbeat person whose loss has been sorely felt.

“I’ll never walk her down the aisle,” said Mike Roberta, Ashley’s father, as he cried while standing at a podium in the courtroom. “I always wanted to marry her off to someone better than me.”

Jan Roberta, Ashley’s mother, asked the judge to impose the maximum guidelines on Espinoza because she considered her acts “drunken, gross negligence.”

Prosecutors said they questioned the sincerity of Espinoza’s remorse and apology, given that she had allegedly been drinking alcohol in January — a violation of the conditions of her release.

Espinoza stood before Hilton, telling about two dozen people from her family and Roberta’s that she she was sorry for what happened and takes full responsibility for the accident.

“It’s obvious that everyone in here lost,” she said. “Nobody gained anything. Me going away will give the family some sense of justice. ... I am not a bad person, but I made a bad choice.”

Peter Greenspun, Espinoza’s defense lawyer, asked the judge to take into consideration her work ethic and remorse in the sentencing.

Hilton called the case tragic, saying there was “nothing worse than a parent having to lose a child.” As part of the sentence, Hilton recommended Espinoza undergo substance abuse treatment. She will also have three years of supervised release.

Last month, Hilton placed Espinoza under home detention after she was found in violation of the terms of her release.

A private investigator hired by the lawyer for Roberta’s family testified that she saw Espinoza allegedly drinking wine in an Italian restaurant and later taking shots at a Baltimore nightclub. As a condition of being released on her own recognizance, the court had ordered Espinoza to not consume “any” alcohol.

The accident occurred on Oct. 13, 2009, after Espinoza, Roberta, and Davies left a D.C. nightclub early in the morning. It was a few days after the U.S. soccer team clinched a World Cup berth and Davies, a U.S. starter at the time, was in Washington with the squad.

The trio got into a 2004 Infiniti FX35 and Espinoza drove southbound along the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Espinoza was unfamiliar with the road and how to get to Davies’s hotel in Crystal City, according to court documents.

She used a GPS to guide her but missed an exit. She looked away from the road to look at the GPS as it recalculated her route. The vehicle ran off the road, hitting a guardrail, and split in half --- the back end of the Infiniti fell down a 17-foot embankment.

Roberta was pronounced dead on the scene. Davies was pinned in the back of the vehicle. Davies suffered a broken fibula, tibia and femur of his right leg, torn ligaments in his left knee, a lacerated bladder, a fractured left elbow, facial injuries and serious head trauma.

Espinoza’s blood alcohol content was almost twice the legal limit at the time of the accident, court papers say.

In an interview before the sentencing hearing, Jan Roberta, Ashley’s mother, described her daughter as an “outgoing, social” person who was loyal to her job for Red Bull, the energy drink maker.

Her daughter had plans to become a lawyer. Roberta’s mother said her daughter called her the day of the accident and said she was going to a Red Bull event at Union Station. It was later that night that she, Espinoza and Davies were in the accident.

Since the accident, Roberta’s family has struggled emotionally.

“It’s a nightmare,” Roberta’s mother said in the interview. She said she found it “deeply distributing” to hear of the testimony that Espinoza was drinking – in spite of the conditions of her release.

Jon Pels, a lawyer for Davies, read a statement from Davies to the judge Friday. In it, Davies described his injuries, surgeries and recovery but said “nothing I have gone through can begin to compare to the tragic loss of life,” and expressed his condolences to Roberta’s family. Davies, his lawyer said, is expected to play Saturday in a D.C. United game.

Davies said he’d been able to focus on his recovery as an “escape” from the accident.

Pels said he hoped the sentencing would be “closure to at least one part” of the tragedy.

This item has been updated since it was first published.

By  |  11:07 AM ET, 03/18/2011

Categories:  Arlington, Dana Hedgpeth, From the Courthouse, Updates

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