Daniel Edwin Morales, 40, pleaded guilty to first-degree vehicular homicide related to reckless driving and serious injury by vehicle in connection to the November 2010 wreck in which Phyllis Autry, 54, died and her husband, Paul Autry, was seriously injured.
Superior Court Judge J. David Roper sentenced Morales to 15 years in prison followed by 15 years of probation, per a plea agreement with the district attorney’s office.
“I apologize with all my heart,” Morales told Autry’s family at the hearing. “I’ve wished so many times that I could have taken her place.”
About 9:30 a.m. on Nov. 20, 2010, the Autrys were driving east on Washington Road near Blanchard Road when Morales hit them head-on. He was driving between 74 and 94 mph on the wrong side of the road.
“There were many, many injuries,” Assistant District Attorney Geoffrey Fogus said, adding that the Autrys both had to be extricated from the wreckage. “It was chaos out there that day.”
Morales’ Volkswagen ricocheted into another truck, where the driver and passenger were not injured.
He was indicted on nine charges including vehicular homicide, serious injury by vehicle, driving under the influence of drugs, reckless driving and driving too fast for conditions.
Phyllis Autry died at the hospital from blunt-force injuries, including a torn aorta. Her husband was seriously injured, sustaining numerous fractures. He is still unable to walk and requires more surgeries.
Paul Autry spoke at the sentencing hearing, where he asked Roper to give Morales the maximum 30-year prison sentence.
“My (physical) pain is nothing,” he said. “Phyllis was more than my wife, she was my hero. ... She was my best friend. When she died, I died.”
The couple would have celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary three days after the wreck.
Morales’ attorney, Pete Theodocion, said that though Morales had marijuana and amphetamines in his system at the time of the wreck, drugs did not impair his driving. Because he’d stayed up late the night before, Theodocion said, Morales fell asleep at the wheel.
“He shouldn’t have been behind the wheel in that state,” Theodocion said, adding that Morales takes responsibility for the wreck by agreeing to the plea.
As part of the plea agreement, he will pay Paul Autry restitution above and beyond what medical costs his insurance company would cover. That amount will be determined at a later hearing.
Morales was originally released on bond. He was arrested and held without bond in September 2011, when he was arrested for driving about 100 mph while under the influence on Interstate 20.