ALAMOSA — Calling him “an absolute nightmare on the roads,” District Judge Michael Gonzales sentenced Carl Lane, 70, of Byers, to jail time for causing the death of Texas man Larry Howey, 76, last year at Highway 17 and Stanley Road — the fourth fatality Lane has contributed to on San Luis Valley highways since 1998.
In his 20 years in the legal system, the judge said he had never seen anything like this.
“It’s absolutely horrific the damage that you have caused to these families,” Judge Gonzales said.
Lane pleaded guilty to a criminally negligent homicide charge, reduced from the original vehicular homicide charge, related to the May 13, 2016 fatal accident involving Larry Howey and his wife Doreen Howey, 74, who survived. Lane also pleaded guilty to careless driving causing death and driving under revocation.
Stating he did not believe prison or community corrections would provide the supervision he believed Lane needed, Judge Gonzales sentenced Lane to three years in the Department of Corrections, which he suspended as long as Lane successfully completes six years of probation, does not drive, pays fines, costs and restitution and meets other requirements associated with his probation on the criminally negligent homicide charge. The judge also sentenced Lane to one year in the county jail on the careless driving charge, which Lane began immediately on Monday. He will serve a six-month jail sentence on the driving under revocation charge but will serve it concurrent to the careless driving punishment.
Assistant District Attorney Ashley McCuaig said Lane is responsible for the death of four people in three fatal crashes since 1998, with the first occurring in Saguache County and involving the death of Margaret and Homer Smith, the second in 2013 claiming Blanca resident John Bregg’s life and the third in 2016, resulting in Howey’s death.
“He says this is an accident,” McCuaig said. “No, this isn’t an accident. An accident was 1998 … This isn’t an accident.”
He referred to the victims’ statements that said “this man is no different than a person with a high powered rifle.”
None of the victim’s family was able to be present at the sentencing on Monday, but several of them wrote letters to the judge describing the loss of their father, grandfather, brother and friend.
McCuaig said there is no sentence that could correct Lane’s actions or give Howey’s family back what they lost. He said Howey had been caring for his wife of 57 years who had dementia and without him she has been unable to live at home anymore. The family would be asking for monetary compensation for her care, he said.
However, there could be no restitution for the loss of a father, McCuaig added.
He recommended a sentence of three years in the Department of Corrections, the maximum that could be imposed.
“I don’t believe three years is long enough, but it’s the longest I can ask for,” McCuaig said.
He said Lane was not a good candidate for probation because he would just do the same thing again.
Lane’s attorney Raymond Miller said Lane has to live with what he has done every day of his life and has paid for his past cases.
“Those are in the past. They have been paid for,” he said.
Miller added that Lane is also a father and grandfather, a working man who was hauling a pickup load of hay when this accident occurred.
He added that it was understandable that Howey’s family was righteously vengeful, but Howey’s life could not be replaced by taking away Lane’s.
Miller said Lane was on his last day of probation for the 2013 case when this accident occurred last year, and he tried to avoid the crash but could not.
“There’s not a day goes by Mr. Lane doesn’t live with that,” Miller said.
Miller requested probation or at most community corrections. He said probation costs $1,570 while prison costs $37,950.
Miller concluded that Lane could not bring back the victim of the crash but would if he could.
“There was no ill intent, no malice,” he said.
Lane spoke to the judge saying he was sorry and had done everything he could to avoid the accident.
“I have been at the wrong place at the wrong time too many times,” he said. “I am sorry for Mr. Howey and his family. I live with that every day.”
Lane said he has agreed never to drive again.
“That’s pretty much a prison sentence for me because my business is in New Mexico largely and I haven’t been able to go there for six to eight months. I am sorry. If I could bring this man back, I would, any one of them I would.”
Judge Gonzales read the names of Lane’s four victims again and said those were four names he hoped Lane would never forget — “four lives that you took away from four families because of your driving.”
The judge acknowledged that Lane did not intentionally go out to kill these people and that Lane was a productive member of the community who works and takes care of his family.
Responding to Lane’s statement that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, Judge Gonzales asked, “How many lives can you take because you are in the wrong place at the wrong time?”
The judge said Lane had a horrible driving record although no other significant criminal history. His driving record ranged from failing to yield right of way and speeding as much as 20 miles over the limit to careless driving and driving under revocation. The judge recounted more than a dozen driving infractions between 1997 and 2016, aside from the fatalities.
“You have no business driving,” the judge told Lane. “You are like the angel of death.”