That was the ultimate sentence a Miami-Dade County judge ordered for a man who in 2014 killed three people -- including his own 15-year-old sister -- in a fiery two-vehicle crash.
Erick Betancourt was ordered to serve one night in jail on the anniversary of the head-on collision each year for 10 years, the Miami Herald reported. Betancourt, 24, faced up to 27 years in prison for vehicular manslaughter, to which he pleaded guilty.
Killed in the January 2014 crash were Betancourt’s sister, Gisele Betancourt, Gabriel Hernandez, 20, and Anthony “DJ SonicC” Rodriguez, 22, an up-and-coming electronic musician and DJ whose music had been featured on “The Real World” and the video game “Grand Theft Auto,” the Herald reported.
Erick Betancourt and two other passengers in his vehicle, Julissa Ochoa, 16, and Samuel Domifilo, 24, were seriously injured in the crash, NBC Miami reported at the time. Betancourt broke both arms in the collision.
Rodriguez’s mother told the Herald after the sentencing that she was “still speechless” over the judge’s ruling.
“In my opinion, there is something wrong with the system,” Rita Rodriguez said. “There should be some kind of consequences. Not 10 days in jail, one per year. That’s ridiculous.”
In a Facebook post, she lamented the sentence.
“Today after 4+ years a judge sentenced the guy who killed Anthony and Gabriel,” Rodriguez wrote. “He received ZERO prison time. He took 3 young lives and that's it.
“We weren't looking for endless years of jail but at least a year or two. He pleaded guilty. The judge decided that it did not constitute jail time.”
She urged the public to ensure that the judge, Circuit Judge Alan Fine, is voted out of office.
Betancourt’s attorney, who told Fine that his client was otherwise a model citizen who was remorseful and had to live with the deaths he caused, saw the sentence differently.
“The judge fashioned an incredibly reasoned, creative and amazing sentence,” attorney Jonathan Schwartz told the Herald.
Betancourt, who was 19 when the crash occurred, was driving his sister and two other passengers home from a wedding around 2 a.m. when his Dodge Durango veered into the wrong lane on a two-lane highway near the Everglades. Rodriguez and Hernandez were traveling in a Chevy Cavalier going in the opposite direction, heading home after a bonfire.
State troopers said that the impact was so severe that it ignited both vehicles, which were engulfed in flames, NBC Miami reported. Rodriguez and Hernandez had to be identified through dental records, the news station said.
Though state troopers determined that Betancourt was driving at 73 mph -- nearly 30 miles over the speed limit -- they were unable to determine why he crossed the centerline. There was no evidence of impairment or texting at the moment of the crash, the Herald said.
Schwartz said if the case had gone to trial, Betancourt’s surviving passengers were planning to testify that he tried to avoid the oncoming car, the Herald said.
Besides his one night in jail each year, Betancourt was ordered to volunteer at a trauma center, speak six times a year to drivers’ education classes, work with students every month and keep clean the memorial site to the victims, the newspaper said. He is also on probation for 10 years.
WPLG in Pembroke Park spoke to friends of the victims in 2014. Students at South Dade Senior High, where Gisele Betancourt was a student, described her as a nice girl.
“It’s good to have friends like that around, and it sucks to see a nice person go,” Michael Vandenedez told the news station. “She was very cheerful.”
Hernandez, who was a student at Miami-Dade College, was also a cheerful presence, WPLG said.
They called him the life of the party,” friend Ely Rojas said. “You could hear that from everyone.”
A website dedicated to Hernandez’s memory stated that even as he kept up his grades as a full-time college student, he worked as a security guard at Manuel C. Barreiro Elementary School in Miami.
Hernandez’s mother, Maria Hernandez, told CBS Miami in 2014 that her son, who adored the Miami Hurricanes, dreamed of someday attending the University of Miami.
“This is a pain that is awful, and is never going away,” Hernandez told the news station.
Rita Rodriguez used the deadly crash to lead a campaign demanding the widening of Krome Avenue, the dangerous two-lane road where her son died. CBS Miami reported that there were 1,800 crashes on that stretch of highway in the five years between 2008 and 2012.
A total of 28 people died in those crashes, an average of five per year.
Rodriguez’s campaign was successful, and the road construction project, which will turn Krome into a four-lane highway, is underway, the Herald reported.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.