“When your son or daughter enlists in the military, you prepare yourself,” Jorge Guerreiro said. “You prepare yourself for the ultimate sacrifice.”
Four days after their father-son talk, Christian Guerreiro was dead. But the 21-year-old did not die on a military mission or in combat.
Rather, on Aug. 1, 2018, he was killed in a hit-and-run crash after an SUV plowed into him and his friend as they were fixing the sports car they’d been riding in after it broke down along the side of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge near National Harborin Maryland.
On Monday, the driver convicted of killing Guerreiro and fleeing the scene, John David Mueller Jr., 33, was sentenced to 14 years and six months in prison — a punishment more than five years above the
maximum recommended in state guidelines.
Prince George’s County Circuit Court Judge Robin D. Gill Bright said she issued a harsher sentence in the criminally negligent manslaughter case because Mueller hit the two men and then left them on the bridge “bleeding in desperate need of help.”
Mueller, of Hollywood, Md., had driven off after crashing into Guerreiro and a surviving victim, Ryan Eades, who was then 20, Prince George’s County Assistant State’s Attorney Jennifer Rush said. When Mueller’s car later broke down, he ran and eventually jumped into the Potomac River to flee, Rush said. Maryland State Police found him hours later shirtless and wet not far from the crash site, Rush said.
Mueller stood up in court and apologized for “the loss of Christian” and said he hoped to earn forgiveness one day. “I’m sorry for the feelings everyone is having in this room,” he said.
The crash came after a history of drunken driving and charges for Mueller, Rush said before his sentencing. He had been convicted of driving under the influence in 2011 and 2006 and had a prior hit-and-run conviction in 2008, Rush said.
Before the judge issued her sentence, Mueller’s attorney, Jeremy B. Widder, said he and his client were limited in what they could say about the case due to possible appeals but said it was inappropriate for the punishment to go above the recommended maximum.
Prosecutors had tried to convince a jury that Mueller was drunk at the time of the crash, but because his blood was not drawn in a timely manner, they could not prove he was driving under the influence, Guerreiro’s family said outside the courtroom.
During the sentencing hearing, Rush said that at trial, Mueller’s defense had suggested that prosecutors could not prove their client was drunk at the time and that the defense claimed he had fled because he was confused by the deployment of his air bag.
“If he was not drunk, leaving the scene of an accident like this is much worse,” Rush said to the judge Monday.
In court, Rush said “due to missteps” by Maryland State Police, prosecutors could not prove that Mueller was drunk.
Maryland State Police said in an interview that troopers cannot draw someone’s blood without a search warrant secured with the help of prosecutors. “Although they could smell alcohol, they could not draw his blood on account of not reaching the assistant state’s attorney,” Maryland State Police spokeswoman Brenda Carl said of Mueller’s case. “You have to get the search warrant, and you have to get a judge to sign off. The attempts were made.”
In response to the state police explanation, Denise Roberts, a spokeswoman for Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha N. Braveboy, said the agency has been working to more effectively prosecute these types of cases since Braveboy took office in December 2018.
“We can’t speak to the process that was in place prior,” Roberts said, but now attorneys prosecuting motor vehicle manslaughter cases are involved earlier in the process.
Jorge Guerreiro said he wished Mueller had pleaded guilty instead of putting the family through the pain of a four-day trial, further wounding the grieving family.
Chele Eades, the mother of survivor Ryan Eades, said her son is also in the Navy but could not attend the sentencing because he is overseas.
Of Mueller, she said: “I don’t think that man can feel the intensity of our pain.”