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Man sentenced in Las Vegas for DUI crash that killed friend

Updated September 6, 2017 - 6:12 pm

Holding a handwritten statement, Cesar Mendoza’s hands shook and voice broke Wednesday as he explained to a judge the pain of losing his “other half” this year in a DUI crash.

Mendoza, who was 19 at the time, was behind the wheel and later arrested on a charge of DUI resulting in death. The victim, Alejandro Jaracuaro, 21, of St. George, Utah, was in the passenger seat.

“He was my first love. He was my best friend. He meant the world to me,” Mendoza, now 20, said. “I don’t even know how to tell you how hard it hit me when I heard that he didn’t make it the night of the accident.”

Two others in the car were injured but survived when Mendoza ran a red light near West Russell Road and South Jones Boulevard in February. Two vehicles were struck, but no one in them was seriously injured.

Mendoza pleaded guilty to the DUI charge in June.

“Some days are better than others,” he said Wednesday. “But honestly, I don’t think I would be able to cope with this nightmare if it wasn’t for (Jaracuaro’s) family — not only for their forgiveness but for the love and support that they’re giving.”

Mendoza’s attorney, Talia Walkenshaw, noted a row of people sitting in the courtroom to support the defendant — a mix of Mendoza’s and Jaracuaro’s relatives.

She asked District Judge Tierra Jones for the minimum sentence of two to five years in prison, which she said Jaracuaro’s family also hoped for.

Prosecutors did not make a sentencing recommendation. Deputy District Attorney Thomas Moskal later told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that Jaracuaro’s family “would have loved” to see the case dismissed.

“That’s how strongly they felt about the defendant,” the prosecutor said.

Walkenshaw also pointed to a stack of letters from people vouching for Mendoza, who did not have a criminal record.

“What happened is tragic, and I think Cesar has suffered extensively,” she said. “Not just because of obviously the criminal charges that have been brought down, but also because — like he very eloquently and genuinely described — he lost the person that he loved the most. And I’ve spoken with Alejandro’s family, and they’ve indicated that Alejandro felt the same.”

“No matter what happens here,” she continued, “the fact that he lost Alejandro is going to be the biggest form of punishment.”

Jones sentenced Mendoza to three to eight years behind bars, the second-most lenient amount of time, noting Mendoza’s license was suspended out of Utah at the time of the crash.

After the hearing, both Mendoza’s and Jaracuaro’s families quietly cried together outside the courtroom.

Contact Rachel Crosby at rcrosby@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-8135. Follow @rachelacrosby on Twitter.

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