A Lakewood family is now trying to move on after the driver convicted of killing their 29-year-old loved-one was handcuffed and taken to county jail Tuesday morning.
Jesus Arias, 38, pleaded no contest to charges that he was driving drunk with his two children in the car when he ran over Kyle McNeley, who was in a wheelchair and crossing Bellflower Boulevard at Harvey Way around 8 p.m. on March 28.
In a plea agreement, the final charges Arias was convicted of were driving with a 0.08% blood-alcohol content causing injury, hit-and-run driving resulting in death and child abuse under circumstances likely to cause death. A judge sentenced him to 1 year in county jail and 5 years of probation. He must also complete parenting classes, visit a morgue and pay fines and restitution if the family requests it.
But the McNeley’s declined a restitution hearing. Mostly, they’re just glad it’s over.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Michelle McNeley held up a framed photo of her son and described what Kyle was like as a child and how his personality stayed the same even after a stroke left him paralyzed on one side and mostly unable to speak two years ago.
“He had a way about him that captured everyone he met,” Michelle said during her victim impact statement.
She described how, at 8:30 p.m. on March 28, she and her husband, Kevin, received a call from a social worker at a local hospital who told them they needed to come quickly. She tried asking the social worker if Kyle was dead, but they said they couldn’t discuss medical information over the phone.
“I knew my son was gone,” she said through tears. As she and Kevin drove to the hospital, they passed the crash site, just a block from their home, still taped off and active with police investigators. She turned to him and said, “This is where Kyle died tonight.”
She said Kevin tried to assure her that it was probably an unrelated accident, but when they got to the hospital, the social worker and doctor told them that Kyle had died on impact during the crash. They were told he didn’t suffer.
As she spoke, Arias could be seen in his chair wiping his eyes on a black sweatshirt in his lap.
Kyle’s older sister Karie shared with the court one of her last moments with her brother. He had asked her to join in one of their favorite pastimes: hanging out and listening to music together. The last song they heard was a Grateful Dead song about a “lively character who could never settle down,” much like Kyle, who loved to take the bus to different parts of Long Beach after his stroke.
“Kyle had so much more to see and do that he won’t be able to do now,” Karie said.
Michelle and Karie both said they hoped more people would be aware of the consequences of drunk driving.
Judge Daniel Lowenthal called the sentence too light, but said he would respect what was negotiated between prosecutors and the defense. Arias originally faced a maximum sentence of more than eight years in state prison.
While she was glad the ordeal was over, Michelle had mixed feelings about Arias’ sentence, unsure if it was right that the case did not go to trial.
“I’m just glad we’re done,” she said, adding that she was thankful Arias’ own children did not get hurt or injured in the crash.