They wore all black outside the Regional Justice Center, the widow and her granddaughter, squeezing each other’s hands tightly. Nearly two years had passed since a car accident killed Leslie Ortega’s husband, Quirino “Kenny” Ortega, but she was still despondent.
“Give us the strength to accept whatever the decision is and help us to go on and do things for his name,” she prayed aloud, her lips quivering with her voice. “So that Kenny can get the justice he deserves.”
They were preparing for the sentencing of Moroni Calvo, 41, who had pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter for accelerating through a red light the morning of April 25, 2016, at the intersection of Nellis Boulevard and Washington Avenue.
On Wednesday, Calvo was sentenced to the maximum penalty: six months of confinement at the Clark County Detention Center.
Leslie Ortega, 65, said that no matter how Calvo was punished, her “Nino” was gone forever.
“Six months in jail is all that can be given,” she said. “But my sentence is forever, missing his sweet smile and the sound of his laughter.”
‘Cases like this are never easy’
The case was emotional for Quirino Ortega’s family, and for several defendants in court for DUI cases unrelated to Calvo’s. Many of the defendants, clad in blue jumpsuits, wept openly after hearing Leslie Ortega and her granddaughter Faith Hubbard testify.
Circuit Judge Suzan Baucum wiped tears from her eyes as she spoke.
“Cases like this are never easy, because how do you deal with the loss of a life? It’s a loss of a life that the family has to face, the community faces. It’s a loss that we all face together,” she said.
Calvo’s defense attorney, Donn Prokopius, asked for traffic school, a suspended sentence and a fine. He said Calvo was repentant.
“He’s 100 percent taking responsibility for running a red light and causing a series of these very unfortunate events. My client’s living with this every day,” Prokopius said. “This isn’t something he’s thumbing his nose at.”
“The last thing that happened to him, he was put in an ambulance and taken to the hospital. The paramedic opened the door and said, ‘Just so you know, you killed somebody.’”
Before the sentencing, Calvo turned toward Leslie Ortega.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t pray for you guys’ family. It was truly an accident,” he said. “I had two surgeries as well. I want to send my condolences.”
Trapped in nightmare
Leslie Ortega’s granddaughter Faith Hubbard, now 19, recounted the accident.
How she’d suffered nine broken ribs, two fractured pelvises, a popped lung, a ruined spleen that needed removal. She had three staples in her head and a trail of them along her stomach. Shattered glass is lodged in her cheek.
It still hurts when she eats, she said, tears rolling down her cheek. The pain is sometimes so crushing that she clutches pillows to her stomach.
“Your honor,” she said, “after this trial is over, Mr. Moroni gets to move on with his life, but I am trapped in the nightmare he started on April 25, 2016. Had I died, it would have been a misdemeanor.”
Leslie Ortega hoped her husband’s story would save a life. The teen with purple hair and purple contacts walked back to the gallery, where her grandma hugged her, holding her close to the silver necklace she wore bearing the words “Half of my heart is in Heaven.”
“I’m proud of you,” she gasped through her cries.
A head of thick, curly black hair. That’s what Leslie Ortega was able to identify of her partner of 34 years. That day, everything but his face and head was covered in sheets.
A lover of the Las Vegas 51s baseball team, the man with the handlebar mustache and bright, sweet smile raised her son as his own. Her husband would have been 62 in October.
“It’s only two years, and I can get full retirement,” he had told his wife.
The grandpa of three loved dressing up. He attended renaissance fairs. In the living room, the couple often danced together. He worked two jobs to make ends meet, at the Flamingo and the Las Vegas Convention Center.
Not far from the home they shared in the Winterwood Village mobile home park is a blond angel painted with a blue dress, playing a white-and-gold harp. The angel, which Leslie Ortega painted for her Nino, sits in a community garden at the mobile home park.
She remembers kissing Hubbard goodbye that fateful morning, but she didn’t say goodbye to him. She figured he’d be back soon.
Quirino Ortega had just finished his graveyard shift at the Flamingo and was driving Hubbard to College of Southern Nevada for her classes. He stopped at a 7-Eleven to buy her a Dr. Pepper.
And just after 10:40 a.m., Calvo, in his red 1991 Dodge Dakota pickup truck, ran the red light, crashing into Quirino Ortega’s purple 1997 Ford Escort, setting off a chain reaction.
A 2016 Freightliner semi-trailer lost its box trailer and pushed the Ford through the traffic signal and into the west side of Buck’s Tavern, a nearby bar.
Metal crunched on metal, glass splintered and shattered. Quirino Ortega died instantly.
Hubbard’s body was found on top of his.
He had kept a long-ago promise: He never let her go.
Contact Briana Erickson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5244. Follow @brianarerick on Twitter.