Sentencing in Hit-and-Run Crash That Killed 5-Year-Old

A judge sentenced Erik Garcia to 30 months behind bars, but Garcia entered a plea deal that will allow him to walk in 5 months.

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    Erik Garcia entered a plea deal that will allow him to be released from jail in 5 months in the 2012 crash that killed 5-year-old Yanelle Lucero. NBC 6's Gilma Avalos reports. (Published Wednesday, April 16, 2014)

    In the courtroom Wednesday, Catherine Diaz had strong words for the man who allegedly took her 5-year-old daughter's life.

    "He had the opportunity to make a right decision, and stop, swerve, or do whatever possible to avoid hurting my baby," she said. "But he chose not to. He just didn't care to avoid this tragedy."

    Fort Lauderdale Police said 5-year-old Yanelle Lucero was riding her tricycle westbound on the 100 block of NW 67th Street on the northern edge of the roadway when she was hit by a GMC van that was also traveling westbound in March of 2012.

    Authorities said then 19-year-old Erik Garcia was behind the wheel of that van, which he left at the scene before fleeing on foot. His friend, then 19-year-old Mario Argumedo, ran to the child, picked her up and carried her to her mother and then drove the van away from the scene, police said.

    In court, Diaz held onto her child's ashes as she sat through Garcia's sentencing.

    "We're coming to the end of what's been a tragedy for me and my family," Diaz said. "A mother's heart is always in pain."

    Garcia apologized on the stand, crying as he asked for forgiveness.

    "I'd like to ask for their forgiveness," he said in Spanish. "For the pain that I've caused."

    Garcia, now 21, was charged with leaving the scene of a crash involving death and not having a valid driver's license. Argumedo, the owner of the van, was also charged with leaving the scene and tampering with evidence.

    "I only hope that the family understands the constraints on the court given what's before me," Judge Marc Gold said Wednesday.

    He sentenced Garcia to 30 months behind bars, but Garcia entered a plea deal that will allow him to walk in 5 months, after he gets credit for time served. He will later be deported to his native country of Mexico.

    "This guy was drinking, the day of the accident. I saw him, with his friends drinking," Diaz told the judge.

    Ultimately the judge said Garcia was charged with leaving the scene of the accident and that there was no tangible evidence that suggested he was driving under the influence, as the victim's mother believes.

    At the end of the sentencing, a heartbroken woman left without seeing the justice she hoped for.

    "That's not what I expected at all," Diaz said crying into a tissue. "I'm not happy. For someone to receive 30 months prison for taking away the life of my daughter."