A Roswell woman was sentenced to four years in prison Friday in connection with a deadly crash two years ago that claimed the life of a Ruidoso woman.
Deanna Willis, 29, was convicted in June of vehicular homicide for her part in a head-on collision north of Portales on U.S. Highway 70 that killed Deborah Hoover, 40, a married mother of two.
Prosecutors said Willis was intoxicated at the time of the crash.
After 45 minutes of emotional testimony, 9th Judicial District Judge Ted Hartley said he did not believe Willis deserved the maximum penalty.
“Her worth is beyond estimation,” Hartley said of the victim. “My message to the family of the victim is to go on. The resentment is eating you up.”
The judge granted Willis, a single mother of four children, one week to spend with her children before incarceration so she could explain the situation to them and prepare them for the years ahead. Willis must report back to custody by 5 p.m. Friday.
Willis’ children, some wiping the tears away, were in the courtroom as their mother pleaded for forgiveness from the family of the victim.
“I’m so sorry for taking her from you,” a grieving Willis said. “I pray for you guys to one day forgive me for what I’ve done to you. I made a terrible mistake.”
Assistant district attorneys Andrea Reeb and Matthew Chandler pushed for the maximum penalty.
“The defense will tell you that this is an accident,” Chandler said. “But this is not an accident. Alcohol was involved. Mrs. Willis made a choice to drive drunk. She made a mistake and she is responsible for it.”
Prosecutors claimed that retrograde extrapolation, which is used to estimate prior levels of alcohol in the blood, proved Willis had a blood-alcohol level of between .09 and .13 at the time of the accident. The legal blood-alcohol limit in the state of New Mexico is .08.
“I appreciate Mrs. Reeb’s comments,” Defense Attorney Doug Jones Witt said. “Mrs. Willis passed all of the sobriety tests and her blood-alcohol level was .05 at the time of the test, below the legal limit in the state of New Mexico. Like us all, Mrs. Willis is not perfect.
“She will have to take responsibility for her actions,” Witt said. “We do not believe that it warrants six years. We are asking your honor to allow Mrs. Willis to serve some of her time in a rehabilitation center.”
Family members and members of Mothers Against Drunk Driving also argued in favor of the maximum penalty.
“I’ll never see her again,” said a teary-eyed Don Hoover, the victim’s husband, shaking and quivering as he spoke. “Precious Debbie was given the death sentence. We won’t be able to enjoy her presence. We’re here for justice.”
Don Hoover was driving the vehicle while his wife was the passenger.