Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Driver sentenced 30 years for deaths of father and son

Express Staff Writer

Cheryl Wise, 24, of Twin Falls, was sentenced Friday to 30 years in prison for two counts of vehicular manslaughter. Wise, who admitted to causing a head-on collision east of Carey July 23, 2005, that killed Bellevue residents Francisco Rojas, 37, and his son Julian, 9, faced criminal charges when she was accused of deliberately causing the accident.

Wise is to serve 15 years with eight years fixed for each count before she will be eligible for parole at age 32. The Twin Falls resident was apologetic to the Rojas family and her own parents at the hearing.

Although her defense attorney, Rob Lewis, asked that Wise's remorse be acknowledged and that she be handed a lighter sentence of two years, 5th District Judge John Butler upheld Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas' recommendation that Wise serve the longer sentence.

Thomas said the punishment fit the string of "inappropriate choices" that led to the death of the father and son, who were traveling with the rest of the family, Rojas' wife and four other children.

The accident occurred about two miles from a previous fatal collision that occurred two weeks earlier on July 20, killing Carey resident Francis Gereau, 27, who allegedly was Wise's lover.

Thomas said Wise, despondent over Gereau's death, wanted to die. Despite a friend's admonishment that Wise remember her husband and child during a cell phone call on July 23 from a turnout near both accident scenes, Thomas said Wise completed the call wanting to end her life.

Lewis argued that Wise was only upset and that the car crash was an accident that occurred when Wise drifted into the oncoming lane of traffic while reaching for her cell phone.

Thomas said Wise had ingested sleeping pills and six beers on her way north from her home in Twin Falls. Consumption combined with demonstrated remorse were more relevant factors in the accident than just distraction from looking for a cell phone, Thomas argued. Authorities believe Wise's actions were intentional.

Thomas recommended that $10,000 be paid to the Rojas family for restitution, but a final sum is to be determined in the next 45 days, the same time frame Wise has to appeal her sentence.

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