INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A man from Guatemala living illegally in the U.S. was sentenced Friday to the maximum of 16 years in prison for a drunken-driving crash that killed Indianapolis Colts linebacker Edwin Jackson and his Uber driver.
A Marion County judge sentenced Manuel Orrego-Zavala after hearing emotional testimony from Jackson’s mother and the widow of Jeffrey Monroe, the 54-year-old driver Jackson had hired from the ride-sharing service the night of the deadly February crash.
Orrego-Zavala, 37, pleaded guilty in July to two counts of operating a motor vehicle with a blood-alcohol content of 0.15 or more, causing death. The sentence marked the maximum possible under his plea agreement.
Investigators said the twice-deported Orrego-Zavala had a blood-alcohol content of 0.19 — nearly 2½ times Indiana’s legal limit — when his truck crashed into Jackson and Monroe on Feb. 4 along Interstate 70 in Indianapolis.
Monroe, of Avon, Indiana, had pulled over when the 26-year-old Jackson became ill. Both men were standing outside Monroe’s car on the highway’s shoulder when Orrego-Zavala’s truck crashed into them.
Authorities said Orrego-Zavala was walking away from the crash when a state trooper detained him. Under his plea agreement, prosecutors dropped two counts of failing to remain at the scene of an accident.
Monroe’s widow, Deborah Monroe, leered at Orrego-Zavala after she took the witness stand while holding a framed photo of herself and her late husband of 23 years. She told the court that the crash had killed “the greatest love of my life” and destroyed their retirement plans that included travel and fulfilling her husband’s dream of going to the Great Wall of China.
She said Monroe’s death had left her and her relatives grief-stricken, their lives permanently changed.
“My family and I are serving a life sentence because of you,” she said, speaking directly to Orrego-Zavala, who kept his head lowered during much of Friday’s hearing.
“You’re a drunk, a liar, a murderer, and a coward,” Monroe said.
The 6-foot, 234-pound Jackson grew up in Atlanta and started eight games for the Colts during the 2016 season, finishing third on the team with 61 tackles. Jackson was considered a possible starter at inside linebacker for 2017 but missed the season after suffering a training camp injury.
Jackson’s mother, Mary Ellen Powell Jackson, told the court she was preparing to leave for Sunday church services when she learned in a phone call that he had died in a crash.
“Our hearts have been ripped apart and we’re always asking, ‘Why Edwin?'” she said, recalling him as a hardworking, handsome athlete, and a good, obedient and caring son who had “a heart of gold.”
Orrego-Zavala was deported from the U.S. in 2007 and 2009. He was in the country illegally at the time of the crash, authorities said. The case became a flashpoint in the nation’s immigration debate, with President Donald Trump tweeting about it and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike Braun featuring it in an Indiana campaign advertisement.
Orrego-Zavala also faces federal immigration charges that could potentially result in a 10-year sentence, said Jeremy Johnson, a Marion County deputy prosecutor.