Alcoholic Sentenced to Prison
December 06, 1988
|ERIC LICHTBLAU | Times Staff Writer
A 38-year-old chronic alcoholic was ordered Monday to serve 15-years-to-life in prison for his third drunk-driving offense--this one resulting in a collision that killed an off-duty Huntington Beach police detective last year.
Richard G. Gonzales of Lake Forest, one of only a handful of drunk drivers in the county to be prosecuted on murder charges, was convicted in September of second-degree murder in the death of Detective Christopher Spurney.
In delivering the sentence Monday in Superior Court in Santa Ana, Judge Francisco P. Briseno rejected several emotional appeals for leniency from Gonzales' family and the defendant himself. Gonzales' supporters all urged alcoholism treatment, not incarceration, for a man they described as deeply remorseful.
Briseno, citing Gonzales' habitual alcohol problems and drunken driving, ordered imprisonment "to ensure that at least for a substantial portion of your lifetime, this risk not be inflicted on other innocent people."
Defense attorney Lloyd Freeberg said in an interview that the ruling demonstrates the judicial system's "refusal to acknowledge that alcoholics are severely diseased people."
But county probation officers, in a pre-sentencing report reviewed by Briseno, described Gonzales as "cavalier," selfish and cowardly in his attitude toward drinking and driving.
"He apparently could not or would not consider life without alcohol and refused to curtail his driving to accommodate his indulgence, thereby implicitly expecting the rest of society to live with the constant risk he presented," the probation report said.
Moments after the sentence was ordered, Gonzales' distraught mother approached Ruth Spurney, the mother of the detective killed in the crash, and embraced her.
Nonetheless, Ruth Spurney remained bitter. She said that although she feels some sympathy for the Gonzales family, they still have their loved one--imprisoned or not.
Gonzales "got 15 years, but somehow it doesn't help if you don't have your son anymore," said Spurney, of Fullerton. "At least he'll have lots of time in prison to think about this, so maybe next time he won't put another family through the hell that he's put ours."
Christopher Spurney was killed while off-duty about 10 p.m. on June 10, 1987, on the San Diego Freeway near Sand Canyon Avenue in Irvine.
His car was rammed head-on by a car driven by Gonzales, who crossed over the center divider and into northbound traffic at a speed of about 70 m.p.h., according to the prosecution. Spurney, 40, a divorced father of two and a former veteran of the California Highway Patrol, died instantly.