Rather than file a lawsuit against the driver, the Johnson family showed forgiveness during the sentencing of the drunk driver who killed their daughter. On July 11, 2012, Regan Johnson was working in a construction zone on Highway 99 near Clinton Avenue in Fresno when Alyssa Villanueva, a 28-year old mother of three who had been drinking, struck and killed 24-year old Johnson. Johnson had been wearing reflective clothing, had a blinking light on her helmet and carried a lit flashlight at the time of the crash. Judge Don Penner said that Villanueva could have avoided the crash if she had taken the advice of a friend who asked her to spend the night – an offer Villanueva refused.

Sentencing Hearing 

Instead of a lawsuit, the family of a young woman killed by a drunk driver in a construction zone demonstrates forgiveness towards the driver.

In April 2014, Villanueva pled guilty to vehicular manslaughter, a felony; the following month, she was sentenced to 17 years and four months in prison. Her stepfather, Antonio Rios Jr., was sentenced to two years in jail after pleading guilty to accessory charges as well. Villanueva left the scene of the crash, and her vehicle was found covered in her apartment complex, which Rios admitted to covering. Surprisingly, Johnson’s family showed forgiveness to Villanueva at her sentencing hearing, thanking her for “standing up and doing the right thing.” By accepting the plea agreement and avoiding a lawsuit, Villanueva avoided a sentence that could have been 15 years to life as she had been charged with DUI in 2010. The current sentence will allow her to be released from prison in her 40s.

Regan Johnson

According to her family, Johnson was an All-American girl who enjoyed baking desserts and writing heartfelt thank you letters. The family wore pins at the sentencing that read “Regan’s Angels.” Friends and family remembered her as a Kingsburg High School and Fresno State graduate who proudly assisted her mother, Malan Johnson, at the family business,  Big Creek General Store. At the sentencing, Johnson’s father said his daughter was “beautiful on the inside and outside.” Her friends and family said that Johnson was a strong believer in justice.

Family Forgiveness

In addition to remembering Johnson, who learned to answer the phone at the age of six so well that people thought she was her father’s secretary, the Johnson family forgave Villanueva, thanking her for pleading guilty and avoiding a trial. The Johnson and Villanueva’s mothers shared a tearful embrace during the hearing; Villanueva’s mother, Irene Martinez, kissed Johnson’s mother on the cheek. The family felt that forgiving Villanueva was what Johnson would have wanted and a lawsuit from them is not expected. Villanueva told the family that she hoped the family could accept her apology and promised to “pay it forward” and do good things in memory of Johnson. Her friends and family said Villanueva “felt horrible” since the day of the crash.

When the negligence of another person is suspected as the cause or contributing factor in a car accident that causes injury or death, a wrongful death lawsuit may be in order. Contact Dallas-Fort Worth lawyers at Frenkel & Frenkel to schedule a free initial consultation regarding an auto accident where injuries may have been caused or worsened by someone else’s negligence. For more information about Frenkel & Frenkel, visit our website at www.frenkelfirm.com.

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