By Austin Dave and Perry Smith
The widowed mother of two reached out when she saw the effort by the California Highway Patrol on The Signal’s DUI Project at signalscv.com/dui.
Because, as she put it in her post: “My husband was killed by a drunk driver… This has to stop!”
Angela Romero was waiting for her husband, Richard Romero, to come home from his French class, and then received the call that every loving family member waiting at home dreads.
Her 50-year-old husband, Richard Romero, was headed back from the College of the Canyons’ Canyon Country campus last December.
Kimberlee Paniza was driving a 2006 Chrysler Sebring north on Sierra Highway, and made a U-turn, while under the influence of alcohol, directly in the path of Richard Romero’s 2014 Yamaha V-Star motorcycle, according to a CHP report at the time.
Richard Romero was rushed to the hospital with 12 broken ribs, two broken wrists, a broken arm and a brain injury that ultimately cost him his life.
He was taking French because the two were planning to retire overseas together.
She had a message for anyone who was thinking about drinking and driving around the upcoming holiday:
“I would tell them that my life was changed forever in an instant, for one decision of having two beers at a local restaurant/bar. And I know without a doubt that she got behind the wheel of that car and said, ‘I’m OK to drive. I can handle this, it’s not a big deal, I do this all the time.’ Yet she caused the death of my husband.”
As a result of the decision she made on the evening of Dec. 1, 2016, the then-23-year-old Paniza was sentenced in September to seven years in state prison, according to Los Angeles County Court records, for a DUI causing great bodily injury or death. She’s eligible for parole in April 2023.
Angela Romero said Paniza never acknowledged her or her family as nine victim impact statements were read at the conclusion of the trial, prompting Angela to ask herself, “Does she care that because of the choices she made that night, that she killed somebody? And does she care that that impact affects us for the rest of our lives?”
Romero noted she had bittersweet feelings about the sentence. On one hand, the seven-year sentence is only a fraction of Paniza’s life, while Romero’s life has been irrevocably changed; and yet, she had doubts the sentence would even be that long, nevermind the sentencing enhancement that forces Paniza to serve 85 percent of her time.
“My life and my children’s lives and my grandchild’s life are forever affected. We will never have a Merry Christmas,” Angela Romero said. “The reason why he was taking French is because we had plans to retire in France. And we no longer have that plan.
“One drink is too many. It affects you. Don’t do it,” she pleaded to the public Thursday. “Don’t wreck people’s lives.”