A 48-year-old man was sentenced Wednesday to 49 years to life in prison for causing a crash that killed a local dog walker and five of the six dogs she was transporting in an SUV.
Javier Olivarez Jr. was fleeing from Long Beach police in a stolen van and going at least 70 mph while under the influence of methamphetamine when he slammed into the SUV on May 7, 2019, according to prosecutors.
Olivarez was convicted in May of second-degree murder, evading a pursuing peace officer’s vehicle causing death, driving or taking a vehicle without consent, and six counts of animal cruelty for crashing into 41-year-old Jessica Bingaman as she drove with six dogs near Temple Avenue and Third Street.
Given a chance to speak before he was sentenced, Olivarez apologized for his actions and blamed them on drugs.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment … to tell the family that day wasn’t me,” Olivarez said in court. “I was lost on drugs … if I was in the right state of mind, I wouldn’t have fled.”
“I’ve gotta live with this for the rest of my life,” he added. “I’m sorry, I really mean it.”
Bingaman, a beloved Rose Park resident who owned The Pawtenders dog-walking and training business, suffered traumatic injuries in the crash, including a collapsed lung and laceration to her liver. She later died from her injuries at the hospital.
Four of the dogs she had with her inside the SUV were pronounced dead at the scene, and a fifth died after being taken to Signal Hill Animal Hospital, according to prosecutors.
The sixth dog was eventually released to its owners after being treated for lacerations. Olivarez suffered only minor injuries in the crash.
During Olivarez’s trial in May, Deputy District Attorney Karen Brako argued that Olivarez “willfully” and “intentionally” sped through Long Beach streets, including a residential area where the posted speed limit was 25 mph, and rolled through several stop signs in an effort to escape from police.
She said Olivarez was doing anything he could to get away from police at “any cost,” even if it included putting other people’s lives at risk.
Olivarez’s attorney, Efren Navar, never disputed that his client was evading police while behind the wheel of the stolen vehicle.
He did, however, argue that Olivarez wasn’t intoxicated while driving, that he didn’t act with malicious intent, and that Long Beach police should share blame for initiating a pursuit rather than recovering the stolen van when they had a chance.
Ultimately, a jury found Olivarez guilty.
In June, family and friends of Bingaman, along with the owners of the dogs killed in the crash, spoke in court and asked the judge to give Olivarez the maximum sentence.
Elise Roberts, who owned the dog Toots, described how she had felt guilty since the crash because she had asked Bingaman to pick her dog up earlier than usual that day, potentially putting her in harm’s way.
Bingaman’s daughter, Reagan, who was 10 at the time of her death, also spoke in court, where she reminisced about the “little things” they did as a family, like listening to music, eating together, and watching movies.
“Because of (Olivarez), I lost a core part of my life,” Reagan said.
During the sentencing Wednesday, defense attorney Navar asked Judge Richard M. Goul to consider a lesser sentence of 15 years to life for Olivarez given his age, and that he had no intent to kill or hurt anyone.
“His intention was to avoid arrest,” Navar said, adding that Olivarez feels remorse and was willing to take responsibility for his actions.
Brako, however, countered by establishing a timeline of Olivarez’s criminal history dating back to the early 2000s when he was convicted of cultivating marijuana. Years later, he was also convicted of receiving stolen goods, robbery and carrying a belt knife. She also listed the numerous times he was re-arrested for violating parole.
She said that 15 years to life “would be as if the defendant had killed one soul and had no criminal history,” Brako said. “He killed six souls.”
“He was, for a lack of a better word, hell-bent on not going back to jail,” she said.
After hearing this, and Olivarez’s apology, Goul sentenced him to 44 years to life in prison, plus an additional five years for having a prior strike.