An El Monte man has been sentenced to one year in county jail and five years on probation for his role in a street racing related car accident last year in which his friend was killed and the passenger in the other car seriously injured.
In October 2007, 19-year-old Fitzgerald Paragas had been racing with his friend 18-year-old Brian Ramirez. Just prior to that, they had been watching the street racing movie “The Fast and the Furious” and decided to have a race of their own. As the two continued to race on the streets, Brian lost control of his car. His Mitsubishi careened across the median and into incoming traffic. A Volkswagen Jetta carrying the Saavedra family was coming in the opposite direction, and the Mitsubishi crashed into it. Ramirez was killed instantly, while the Saavedra family suffered serious injuries. At the time of the crash, Ramirez’s vehicle was apparently going at 90 mph.
After the crash, Paragas tried to mislead police into believing that he had not been part of the car accident at all. His initial claim was that he was at home at the time of the car crash, and had received a call from Ramirez who said he would be coming over. After waiting for an hour, when there was still no sign of his friend, Paragas told police he had driven off to take a look. It was then that he came upon the car crash site where his friend was killed. Later however, Paragas broke down, and admitted that he had been racing too.
He was charged with one felony count of murder with the special allegation of causing great bodily injury, one felony count of vehicular manslaughter and four counts of felony reckless driving causing injury, as well as misdemeanor street racing. A judge has now sentenced him to one year in county jail. He will also be required to pay restitution to the Saavedra family, a $100 court security fee and a $20 restitution fee. He is also prohibited from driving while under probation, and will have to participate in a safe driving program. He will also be required to educate high school students on safe driving as part of his sentence. The judge admitted that Paragas’ lack of a prior criminal record and letters written to the judge by the young man’s school teachers had led to what can only be called a light sentence.
The district attorney asked the judge to impose a four-year prison sentence to be suspended. If Paragas violates the terms of his probation, he would have to serve time in jail. Paragas was facing a maximum of eight years and eight months, and the prosecution had asked for a sentence of four years to six years.
Street racing can be either spontaneous races, like the one that seems to have taken place here, or coordinated races that are planned ahead of time. In either case, they can cause serious injuries and fatalities. With the high speeds that are the norm during such races, many motorists’ lives are endangered simply because they were unlucky enough to be around the scene when a race was on. Considering the gravity of Paragas’ action and the death that it resulted in, a stiffer sentence would have given out a stronger message to would-be street racers.