Basin Opinions Divided on Tavarez Sentence

Nick Lawton
NewsWest 9

MIDLAND - Highway 191 in Midland was where a car being driven by a drunk Joel Tavarez crashed on the wrong side of the road back in October of 2010.

That crash left the driver, Jenna Vela, and the passenger, Perry Jeffery, dead and their two daughters in the backseat critically injured.

For that crash, Tavarez was found guilty of two counts of intoxication manslaughter for the parents and two counts of intoxication assault for the daughters.

Tavarez was sentenced Monday to 10 years probation.

Some, like the families of Vela and Jeffery, want a harsher punishment.

Others, like the Tavarez family, are grateful for a more merciful sentence.

Does 10 years probation fit the crime of intoxication manslaughter?

According to the CEO of Stop DWI, Inc., Charles Hodges, it doesn't.

"In this case, it's an anomaly," he said. "Most people are going to get some years. This young man was facing 60 years, probably. This came as a shock, a complete surprise to us."

Hodges believes jail time is the right call.

But for Tavarez's defense attorney, Brian Carney, the right call doesn't boil down to which punishment is given most often. It boils down to the facts of the case.

"It all develops based on the facts and the individual who committed the crime," Carney said. "It's not a cookie-cutter set of circumstances."

On the other side, the prosecution agrees that it depends on the person.

Prosecutor Tim Flathers told NewsWest 9 over the phone that Midland juries tend to be more lenient when sentencing a young offender who has no criminal history and comes from a good family.

Hodges said the first-time offense doesn't change the fact that two people are dead leaving two small girls without parents.

"I just don't trust juries anymore," Hodges said. "I don't trust the public anymore to make a decision to where we can really, effectively say: 'Do not drink and drive.'"

But Carney said the jury heard both sides and saw evidence from both sides. According to him, that makes their decision unbiased.

"To say that this is an anomaly or incorrect is really rather disingenuous," Carney said. "They determine what is appropriate for Mr. Tavarez, knowing what he's like, where he's been, what his criminal record is which is zero."

If Tavarez violates his probation in any way, he faces up to 40 years in jail.

Those violations could be anything from missing probation appointments to committing another crime. Whether you believe Tavarez's punishment was right or just a slap on the wrist, regardless, for now, this case rests.