Staff editorial: Disgraceful decision

To get behind the wheel with a blood alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit was almost as dangerous as pointing a loaded gun into a room full of people and firing. According to The Washington Post, these harsh words were spoken by D.C. Superior Court Judge Ann O’Regan Keary as she levied a far too lenient sentence against Ricardo Aspillaga, the man who struck and killed GW Law student Seth Wadley last December.

Wadley died at GW Hospital a day after Aspillaga’s car hit him at the intersection of 11th and G streets with enough force to throw the 24-year-old’s body about 30 yards. Wadley’s keys, in his hands when he was hit, remained embedded in the windshield of the damaged car and were discovered by a police officer in Arlington, Va., who stopped Aspillaga for erratic driving. Tests revealed the driver’s blood alcohol level was 0.22 percent – almost triple the District’s 0.8 percent limit, according to The Post.

This incident is a clear-cut case of a drunk driver killing an innocent bystander and fleeing the scene. So why did the offender who pled guilty to manslaughter receive a sentence of only two to six years in prison?

The answer most likely lies in a plea bargain reached between the defendant and the U.S. Attorney’s office. But prosecutors committed a grievous error in pursuing such a light penalty for such an outrageous crime. Seth Wadley is dead because of the reckless and criminal actions of a man who showed disregard for human life by driving while intoxicated. Now prosecutors have shown a disregard for Wadley’s life by exacting so little punishment for his death.

District law says whoever is guilty of manslaughter shall be sentenced to a period of imprisonment not exceeding 30 years. Clearly, the prosecutors and the court could have imposed a more appropriate sentence. Instead, Aspillaga could be back on the roads within two years.

The law is not the problem. The law provides an appropriate penalty for ending the life of another person. But unless prosecutors and judges use the law to its fullest extent to severely punish drunk drivers who kill other motorists and pedestrians, those same laws are rendered toothless and impotent.

Seth Wadley would still be alive if Ricardo Aspillaga had not consumed so much alcohol and then climbed behind the wheel of a car. That Aspillaga escapes significant sanctions for his reprehensible behavior should enrage the GW community and the people of D.C.

Citizens rely upon the law and those who enforce it for protection. What little regard the government has shown for the life of Seth Wadley. What a flimsy shield the prosecutor’s office and D.C. Superior Court held up to defend the people.

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