MEDINA — Tearful family members of a man who died in an April crash urged a judge Thursday to send the man responsible to prison for as long as possible.
Medina County Common Pleas Judge Christopher J. Collier put Mateo Ralios Delacruz behind bars for 15 years, 2½ years less than the maximum possible sentence.
Collier said he hoped the family understood.
“The prison sentence is not enough for you,” he told them. “In my view, it’s what the law permits and it’s what I must impose.”
Ralios, who has admitted to being in the country illegally from Guatemala, pleaded guilty last month to drunkenly crashing a stolen vehicle into one driven by 34-year-old Eric Kaskevic, of Strongsville, who was seriously injured, at about 5:30 a.m. June 13. Kaskevic’s passenger, 29-year-old Chad Nelson, was pronounced dead at a hospital.
Ralios, who has said he is 21 and 22 in separate court hearings, was pulled from his vehicle — which had caught fire — by Good Samaritans. He sustained minor injuries.
Collier said he couldn’t imagine what the family was going through.
“Mr. Ralios was there and he can’t remember (because he was drunk),” Collier said to the family. “You all were not there and you can’t forget. And you shouldn’t forget.”
County Prosecutor Dean Holman said the crash was an “unnecessary tragedy.” He has said Ralios probably would be deported after serving his prison sentence.
The victims’ families were given the chance to speak at Thursday’s sentencing hearing. Kaskevic and his family declined to speak, but Nelson’s family took the opportunity.
Nelson’s wife of 7½ years, Kristin, said she always would remember her husband as a military man. He served two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan before returning to the U.S.
“I prayed for him every day he was away from me,” she said, “not knowing that I should have kept praying when he returned home.”
She said even the maximum 17½ years in prison wasn’t enough.
“We will never be parents together or grandparents, and we will never grow old together,” Kristin Nelson said, “all due to selfish and illegal acts by Mr. Ralios.”
She said she was angry that Ralios was here illegally — especially because her father’s family worked hard to immigrate legally to the U.S.
“The only difference between my family and Mr. Ralios is my family came here the hard way, the long way and the legal way,” she said. “Mr. Ralios shouldn’t even have been in this country in the first place.”
Chad Nelson’s mother, Debra Nelson, said she fears driving.
“Every single day, I find myself terrified to be in a car whether I’m driving or as a passenger,” she said. “Being in a car is one of the painful reminders of what happened to my son.”
She said she read the injuries her son sustained in the crash — including broken ribs and pelvis, liver and aortic lacerations and lung trauma — and sobbed.
“It still feels like a nightmare and I can’t wake up,” she said. “It just doesn’t seem real to me and I wish it wasn’t.”
She said she deeply misses her son.
“He made me laugh, made me cry at times, and gave the tightest hugs,” his mother said. “I was so proud for all he did and tried to do in his life; but most of all, I was just proud of who he was, and I was proud to be his mama, as he called me.
“Dear God, I know it’s wrong, but I wish Mr. Ralios had not been saved from his burning vehicle that day,” she said. “I wish Mr. Ralios had died instead that day.”
Ralios, who speaks little or no English and required an interpreter via speaker phone for his hearings, was convicted of aggravated vehicular homicide, a first-degree felony; aggravated vehicular assault, a third-degree felony; and receiving a stolen motor vehicle, a fourth-degree felony.
Through an interpreter, Ralios asked the family to forgive him.
“I just would like to apologize and ask for forgiveness for what I did in the United States,” he said.
His attorney, Job Perry, said Ralios came to the U.S. illegally from Guatemala a few years ago to make money to support his family. Perry said Ralios had been supporting his family since the sixth grade, when he dropped out of school.
“This case has been a struggle for everybody in this room,” Perry said. “One of the first things Mr. Ralios said to me was he wanted to admit his responsibility and plead guilty as soon as possible.”
He said his client has an addiction to alcohol. Ralios had a blood-alcohol level of 0.145 the day of the crash; the legal limit to drive in Ohio is 0.08.
“We know that alcohol affects people in many different ways,” Perry said, “and it affected Mr. Ralios in the worst possible way imaginable.”
Contact reporter Nick Glunt at (330) 721-4048 or firstname.lastname@example.org.