Her voice barely above a whisper, Jenny Mate stood in a Prince George’s courtroom Tuesday and read a handwritten apology to the relatives of her two victims, men she had plowed into while driving drunk.
Mate, 32, did not turn to face the men’s loved ones, some of whom were dabbing their tears with tissues. She did not look up at Circuit Court Judge Cathy H. Serrette, who was moments from sentencing her.
“Never did I realize that in the blink of an eye I’d be responsible for taking lives,” said Mate, whose bright orange prison jumpsuit partially concealed her pregnancy.
Serrette sentenced Mate to 20 years in prison — more than sentencing guidelines called for and a year less than the maximum allowed by law. The judge acknowledged that Mate had been sexually abused as a child and suffered from alcoholism.
But Serrette stressed that Mate had twice before been convicted of driving while intoxicated and shouldn’t have been behind the wheel that night because her license had been suspended.
“You had repeated wake-up calls that you ignored,” Serrette told Mate. Her actions had destroyed three families: those of the victims and her own, the judge said.
In the packed courtroom, relatives of her victims — Roy Lacayo, 34, of the District and Justo Rosario Jr., 30, of Hyattsville — exchanged hugs.
Christie Lacayo, 35, Roy Lacayo’s widow, said she struggles to raise their three young children. Jaxson, 1, is too young to understand his father is gone; their girls, Janae, 4, and Jayla, 3, still hope their father will come home, she said.
When they are walking, Janae clutches her hand at intersections, she said. “She says, ‘I don’t want a car to hit you and hurt you like Daddy,’ ” Lacayo said in an interview.
The paths of Mate and the two victims met on a road in the Adelphi area on the night of Feb. 1, 2010.
Lacayo, who also had two children from a previous marriage, had been at a pool hall and was returning home. Rosario, a computer repairman, was on his way back from a job. His teenage brother was in the car with him.
The men had been in a fender bender and were stopped on Riggs Road. According to witnesses who testified at Mate’s trial, they had parked their vehicles on the side of the two-lane road and were standing near the vehicles, exchanging insurance information.
It was about 10:45 p.m. when Mate, driving a 2005 Cadillac sport-utility vehicle, slammed into Lacayo and Rosario, according to court testimony. She was traveling about 60 mph in an area where the speed limit was 30 mph.
Lacayo was knocked out of his shoes. Rosario was dragged underneath Mate’s vehicle for more than 100 feet, prosecution witnesses testified.
On the night of the accident, Serrette said Tuesday, Mate had driven to a bar. When Mate learned the bar sold only beer, she went to a second bar that served liquor before driving home, Serrette said.
After the crash, Mate provided a breath sample, which indicated her blood alcohol level was .15, almost twice Maryland’s legal limit of .08, according to trial testimony.
During the sentencing hearing, relatives of the victims spoke for more than an hour, telling Serrette how much the deaths of Lacayo and Rosario had affected them.
A half-dozen relatives and friends of Mate’s spoke as well, saying that she is a good mother to her 5-year-old son.
A sister of Mate’s, who declined to be identified by name, said she is caring for Mate’s son. The sister said another relative will care for Mate’s unborn child, who is due in September.
Serrette ordered that Mate, who was convicted of two counts of vehicular manslaughter in May, undergo three years of supervised probation after her release. The judge said she would recommend that Mate receive therapy for sexual abuse and treatment for alcoholism.
“Today’s sentence reflects the gravity of the crime,” said State’s Attorney Angela D. Alsobrooks. “Twenty years is a long time for this defendant to think about the destruction she caused the Lacayo and Rosario families.”
“I was very happy with the sentence,” said Christie Lacayo. She said she harbors no malice toward Mate but thinks she should be held accountable.
Justo Rosario Sr., 61, said in an interview that he used to go to the park and play dominos with his son, who lived at home. When they visited relatives in the Dominican Republic, they would ride horses together, he said.
“Now,” he said, “I don’t want to do any of those things.”