ORANGEBURG —Jesus Magana, an illegal immigrant with no driver's license, pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges of leaving the scene of an accident involving a death and was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Circuit Judge Jimmy Williams sentenced Magana in connection with the June 2008 crash that killed Steven Rand Rouvet, 21, who was leaving his shift at Smokey Bones in North Charleston.
The sentencing followed an often-emotional 2 1/2-hour hearing in which 13 of Rouvet's family members and friends, many dressed in matching white T-shirts bearing his picture, told about a life lost too soon.
His mother, Linda Rouvet, told Williams that writing her statement was the hardest thing she has ever done. "Never more will I see or hear Rand again except in my dreams," she said. "When I want to talk to my son now, I must drive to the cemetery and talk to the ground."
Magana said little except acknowledging through a translator that he understood he was giving up his right to a trial, that he was satisfied with his attorney, and that he was guilty.
Defense attorney Randall "Webb" Charpia said Magana, who was 23 at the time of the crash, has no history of drug or alcohol abuse and worked as a sheetrock installer. While he was here illegally, he came here to earn money to send back to his parents in Mexico. Charpia also noted that state toxicology tests found that Rouvet had a blood alcohol level of 0.16 and traces of marijuana in his system.
Williams also fined Magana $15,000. The maximum sentence would have been 25 years and $25,000. Williams said leaving the scene is probably the greatest charge the state could have made stick, adding that it's rare that his sentence in a case like this would please anybody.
Linda Rouvet later said she was satisfied with the sentence. "I feel that God and justice were here for my son today," she said. "Obviously, I would have loved for the maximum, but I understand that since he pleaded guilty that wasn't going to happen."
Once Magana completes his sentence, he will be handed over to federal authorities for deportation.
Some of the proceedings involved testimony about who was at fault in the June 1, 2008 accident. The Rouvet family has not reached a settlement with the company that insured the pick-up truck Magana was driving.
Donald Roberts, who testified as an expert crash investigator, said Rouvet was going at least 62 mph and perhaps more than 70 mph moments before his car struck Magana's truck. Roberts also testified that Magana would have had a hard time seeing him approaching as Magana turned onto Ashley Phosphate Road and that Rouvet likely wasn't wearing his seat belt.
Assistant Solicitor Blair Jennings said circumstantial evidence — including the fact that Magana was leaving a North Charleston bar — indicated that Magana had been drinking, but the state will never know for sure.
Magana did not turn himself into police until four days after the accident, when his uncle realized that his pick-up —apparently borrowed without his consent — was involved in the crash. By then, it was too late to test for alcohol use.
Jennings said the state was wise to increase the maximum penalty for leaving the scene of an accident involving a death so that it matches the maximum penalty for felony driving under the influence.
Since last year's crash, Linda Rouvet has been among a few people who have urged state lawmakers to pass tougher penalties for unlicensed drivers.
State Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, said Wednesday he doesn't expect such legislation will pass in this year's abbreviated session, but it could pass next year.
"My heartfelt sympathy goes out to Rand and his family. They're in our thoughts and our prayers, and we're working with them and other families to ensure this tragedy doesn't happen any more in South Carolina."