Juan Carlos Ortega-Santos, a man whose late night drunken ride through Jeffersontown lead to the deaths of two children, accepted a plea deal on manslaughter and other charges Thursday morning, just before his murder trial was scheduled to begin.
Jefferson County Circuit Judge Barry Willett sentenced Ortega-Santos to 25 years on the lesser charges which also included wanton endangerment and DUI.
It was a surprise move considering Ortega-Santos rejected a plea deal just 24 hours prior.
"I asked my client to pray about it, and after he reflected on it, he decided it would be best not to go forward," defense attorney Grover Cox told reporters after the sentence was delivered, "Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims of this terrible tragedy and I believe he made a wise decision.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Kristi Gray said the result of the decision was that neither side 'won'.
"No matter what we do in court, no matter what the plea was or what the jury might have done, there's no outcome that's going to restore that family," she said.
Gray added one benefit was to public safety in that Ortega-Santos would be off the road and in prison.
Court records show Ortega-Santos blood alcohol level after the crash was .200 which was more than two times the legal limit.
Neither family of Tyeisha Lacy or Alena Clay were in the courtroom for the sentencing. Both families hoped to witness opening statements which were expected to begin Thursday afternoon.
Gray told the court she spoke to the families by phone and both were accepting of the deal.
Two other children, who were related to Lacy, were in the group that night and likely would have had to testify.
"This plea is a little bit of a relief to know they won't have to go through coming into the courtroom and reliving that," Gray said.
Clay's grandmother, Patricia, who was relieved she wouldn't have to sit through a lengthy trial, still wished she would have been able to see Ortega-Santos and let him know truly how much he took from her.
"He took a piece of my heart and only God can punish him," she said by phone.
Families are allowed to give impact statements at sentencing, but because the deal came early in the morning and Ortega-Santos waived his right to a sentencing hearing, he did not hear from the families whose lives were upended by his actions in June 2016.
"I'm not able in my life to punish him enough because I don't have the power, so I'm looking to God to do whatever is needed to be done. He just needs to repent."
She remembered her granddaughter as a loving child who always had a smile and kind words. Patricia found notes and letters written by the 10-year-old after she died. She said Alena would always write love letters to her relatives.
"She wrote me a letter one day that says, 'My granny is the best in the world. God loves her and I love her.'"
Ortega-Santos is also under federal indictment on immigration and fraud charges. Federal agents said Ortega-Santos used someone's social security number to gain employment.
Reached late Thursday, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office said prosecutors were waiting for the state paperwork on Ortega-Santos' case to be complete before moving forward with the federal charges. She said prosecutors expected to have a new hearing in federal court in about 30 days.
i-Team Investigator Derrick Rose can be reached at (502) 582-7232 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @WHAS11DRose