Article from http://www.sfgate.com/
Drunken driver gets prison
He hit cyclists -- man killed, woman injured
- Pamela J. Podger, Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 28, 2004
© 2004- The Chronicle
After an emotionally grueling hearing Monday, a Santa Rosa lawyer was sentenced to the maximum term for driving on Easter Sunday after drinking more than three times the legal limit of alcohol and then fatally striking a 31-year-old tri-athlete and paralyzing his companion as they cycled along Highway 12.
Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Elaine Rushing sentenced Harvey Hereford, 69, to eight years and eight months in state prison after a two-hour sentencing hearing. Hereford must serve at least 85 percent of the sentence.
Hereford pleaded guilty on July 7 to felony charges of vehicular manslaughter, driving under the influence and inflicting great bodily injury. He was driving on an expired license and told authorities that he was despondent and felt abandoned by his family on the holiday.
Hereford was spotted at about 11:20 a.m. weaving over the double yellow line on Highway 12 before fatally striking Alan Liu, 31, and gravely injuring Jill Mason, then 26, who suffered brain trauma and a severed spinal cord. The couple, who had been dating for about six months, were on a training bicycle ride for a triathlon in May.
Liu, an engineer at Applied Materials in Santa Clara who was being groomed for an executive position, was a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University. Family and friends described him as a natural leader with guts and enthusiasm; he coached about 300 swimmers in the Mountain View Masters swim team, where he met Mason. She had graduated from Santa Clara University and then received a master's degree from San Jose State University, worked for a Mountain View company, She had been a track runner at Nevada Union High School in Grass Valley.
Mason, flanked by her parents and younger brother, addressed Hereford from her wheelchair in a faltering voice, saying she had endured five months of physical therapy, learning how to breathe, eat and speak all anew. Gone are the former carefree days -- "I loved my job" -- and training for a triathlon by biking, swimming and running.
"I never thought I would be where I am today," she said. "My life's goals are very different now. Harvey Hereford, you've changed my life forever and taken Alan's away. I've lost a lot, including a friend.''
Turning to face the family and friends of Liu and Mason, Hereford said he had no recollection of drinking vodka, getting into his Nissan Sentra and eventually plowing into the two bicyclists. He said he had put on the brakes after his windshield was shattered. He said he had experienced black outs but said they were usually at night while he sat in his chair -- not behind the wheel of a car.
It was a "monumentally selfish act,'' Hereford told the packed courtroom. "I'm sorry.''
But his apology rang hollow to those who urged the judge to impose the maximum sentence. About one dozen family members, friends and colleagues chastised Hereford, saying he and his family should have treated his alcoholism earlier. Hereford had a blood alcohol level of 0.29, and, his attorney said, there had been several rounds of treatment.
Rita Wells said Alan was "the best son'' that any mother could have, with caring, intelligence and passion for others. She said Hereford should take full responsibility for his actions, "not just excuses that you don't remember what happened.''
Betty Liu, the maternal grandmother of Alan, said Hereford had senselessly robbed the family of his presence. "If you have a shred of remorse, you will never operate an automobile on our streets,'' she said.
Laura Schuster, a coach at the Mountain View Master's swim team, lashed Hereford for his "carelessness and ignorance'' of driving a car while grossly intoxicated. "You don't deserve to be free or breathe the same air we do. I hope you never forget what you did or what your drinking has done to us,'' she said.
Jill Mason's father, Larry, said his family was devastated, juggling jobs and round-the-clock care for Jill. They are thrilled by her progress toward to recovery and still see her sparkling and vivacious qualities.
"I know my most perfect daughter has changed forever,'' he said "Life will get better, but it will be different.''
Jill's brother, Daniel, said he was "extremely grateful'' to be able to speak with his sister again. He branded Hereford's act as "irresponsible and 100 percent avoidable.''
Gathering in the courtroom hallway after the sentencing, Jill Mason was hugged and embraced by her college friends and family members. "I guess now we can all breathe,'' she said, smiling.
Barry Liu, the father of Alan Liu, summed up the sentiments of many at the hearing: "No matter what they sentence him to, it will never compensate or make up for the loss.''
E-mail Pamela J. Podger at email@example.com.
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