The driver of a gas tanker that exploded in a fiery 2005 Florida's Turnpike crash that claimed four lives was given a new sentence of 17 years Wednesday afternoon – less than half his original sentence.
Broward Judge Michael Rothschild said Flavio Santisteban's original sentence of 36 years in prison was not appropriate justice.
The judge said he had sleepless nights considering what to do with the case. He noted that sentencing was at his discretion, and said he decided to bump it down from 36 to 17 years as he resentenced Santisteban.
“It is the court's hope that with this order some measure of closure can be provided to the victim's family and friends, and at the same time the defendant will receive appropriate sanctions which will ensure that justice, balancing of the scales, will be afforded," Rothschild said.
Even though there was a significant reduction in her son’s sentence, Santisteban’s mother broke down in tears outside the courtroom Wednesday. His family and friends think he should be out of prison.
"If you take into consideration 36 years versus 17 years it's much better, but I don't think that that's what he deserves," said his friend Yohanka Pereira.
Santisteban was driving on the ramp from Interstate 595 to the Turnpike when the tanker flipped over, burst into flames and landed on a car, killing the four people inside.
Prosecutors said Santisteban was speeding at the time the tanker, which was carrying 9,000 gallons of fuel, crashed.
A few relatives of the victims were in the courtroom Wednesday, but they had no comment on the reduced sentence.
Santisteban was originally sentenced after he was convicted of vehicular manslaughter in the crash. But his sentence was overturned because of religious comments made by a different judge, Jeffrey Streitfeld, when he imposed it.
Streitfeld is Jewish, and the four victims killed in the crash were Jewish. When sentencing Santisteban in 2008, Streitfeld explained the concept of “chai,” the Hebrew letter that represents the number 18 and translates to the word “life” in English.
He then announced that Santisteban's sentence would be for a term of double chai, or 36 years.
That mention of religion in a state courtroom prompted Santisteban to appeal his sentence.
With credit for time served, Santisteban will still have about 12 years left to serve.
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