By FRANCISCO E. JIMENEZ
Special to the PRESS
BROWNSVILLE – South Padre Island Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Darla Lapeyre was sentenced to six months in jail at a state facility Thursday for negligent homicide charges dating back to a Feb. 6, 2011 incident in which the vehicle she was driving struck and killed Michigan native, 63-year-old Jimmie Leonard Anklam, who was riding on Padre Blvd. on his motorcycle with his wife Christine.
Lapeyre was also ordered to pay restitution to the family, court costs, a $5,000 fine, $100 donation to Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD), and donate her time to a MADD victim’s panel upon her release as well as community service.
Testifying as a character witness for Lapeyre were Dayna Lord, who had been a passenger in Lapeyre’s vehicle the night of the accident, and Susan Parker, a co-worker at Chase Bank.
In an emotionally-charged scene, statements read at the sentencing hearing, which was held Thursday inside Judge Elia Cornejo Lopez’ 404th State District Court in Brownsville, came from Anklam’s widow Christine Anklam, daughters Trisha Majumdar and Sarah Drumm, and niece Michelle Davis.
“Ms. Lapeyre, as you can see your actions have caused a lot of damage to a lot of people,” Judge Lopez said to Lapeyre. “I’ve listened to you, you’ve been before my court many times, and I do feel that you are remorseful. I do feel that it is something that you are going to carry with you for a very long time.”
Judge Lopez said she takes “these cases very seriously” and addressed the charges brought by the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office.
“The DA is the person elected to prosecute cases in this county,” Judge Lopez said. “I’ve heard from the state, and they’ve tried serious cases here, and they’ve tried things that they can win. They feel that this is the best that they can do for this victim and this family. It’s outside of my realm to tell them how to prosecute and what to prosecute.”
Evan Robbins, Assistant District Attorney prosecuting the case, made the following statement prior to sentencing: “In our conversations, obviously the family would have preferred intoxication manslaughter with a conviction or a trial and significant jail time.”
Robbins was referring to the DA’s office downgrading Lapeyre’s original charge of intoxicated assault/intoxication manslaughter to negligent homicide. “We switched the charge because of the facts of the case and the issue of intoxication,” Robbins said. “There were no witnesses available. Being a former police officer myself, I reviewed the video of the field sobriety test, there were problems there. The prior prosecutor did consult with an expert as far as extrapolation evidence as far as if we could reach an .08 or higher, and there was no ability to do that. He conveyed to me that that was not something an expert would be able to do.
“Without the presumption of intoxication,” Robbins continued, “we were forced to look at those issues. We would then have to rely on the physical evidence of the loss of normal use of the faculties or abilities. As mentioned by the defendant’s witnesses, who had been with her all night, there is no evidence that she had been excessively drinking.”
The ADA also indicated that, according to a bartender at an establishment where Lapeyre was reportedly drinking, Lapeyre had one drink at said establishment and didn’t finish it.
“She had bought two drinks, one was for her friend and one was hers; obviously she’s had more than those two because she wouldn’t have been at .07, even with just two drinks,” Robbins said of Lapeyre’s blood-alcohol level (BAL) the night of the incident. “However, there is no evidence to show that her physical faculties had been diminished based on the evidence that we had. We didn’t interview the bartender, her friends; I watched the video extensively. She was also videoed going to the hospital to get blood drawn. While she was in the patrol car, she was able to converse clearly with the officer. We had to show that her decision to make that left-hand turn was impaired due to her level of intoxication. There was nothing to show that she had been traveling at a high level of speed.
“She had been in the left-hand turn lane. A van went past and then she turned. This was at sundown on the Island. The motorcycle then collided. The likelihood of a conviction was minimal.”
The judge accepted this explanation from the ADA.
“I respect Mr. (Evan) Robbins, not only his experience as a prosecutor, but as a police officer. So I will accept the recommendation of the parties.”
To Lapeyre, Judge Lopez announced, “I find you guilty and sentence you to two years at a state jail facility.”
The sentence, however, was suspended and probated for five years as Lapeyre was ordered to pay court costs within 90 days and probation fees of $60 a month for the next five years. A restitution hearing will also be set for May 2.
What’s more, Lapeyre must pay a fine in the amount of $5,000 over 60 months, a set fee of $400 to be paid over eight months, and $100 to the MADD organization, participate in a surveillance program for 12 months followed by participation in the Intensive Supervision Program (ISP) for 12 months; seek drug and alcohol abuse counseling and random urine analyses, which will be required for every visit with the probation officer.
In addition, Lapeyre is further required to bring $5 for the probations department and submit to a breathalyzer test, attend a 30-hour DWI education program, install an engineer lock device in her vehicle, refer to a MADD victim’s panel, and submit to 250 hours of community service.
Judge Lopez said Lapeyre cannot consume any alcohol for the next five years. “You are not to go to any bars or night clubs,” Judge Lopez specified. “If you are not sure if it is a bar or a nightclub, don’t go in. You must remain on registry for five years. I’m also ordering the maximum that I can in jail time, which is six months in jail.”
Still, Lapeyre’s defense attorney, Reynaldo G. Garza III, believed his client’s punishment was harsh.
“She should not have gone to jail,” Garza said of Lapeyre’s sentence. “The judge was too hard on her. It is what it is, I mean someone died. It was a terrible car accident. The message that everyone needs to know is that anybody in the Valley and Port Isabel, if you’re driving down the road, have not been drinking or intoxicated and you run a red light and you have a car wreck, something that would normally give you a ticket; if someone dies you could go to jail. And that’s what happened here. I hope she doesn’t lose her job. She works for the City of (South) Padre Island. … She’s fortunate that she didn’t go to jail for much longer.”
The family of the victim disagrees.
“I’m glad that the judge gave her the maximum sentence allowed under the law,” the victim’s eldest daughter, Trisha Majumdar said after the sentencing. “I’m just disappointed that the DA didn’t try the case, but I’m happy that the judge took the action that she did. Nothing really will bring back my dad. But I am happy that the judge took the action that she did.”
Christine Anklam, the victim’s wife of 16 years, said, “I feel that (the outcome) was good. We’ve waited two years for this, and it was good. A little more jail time I would think, but I’ll settle for the six months. The family will settle for that.”
Lapeyre read the following statement prior to her sentencing:
To Ms. Anklam, Ms. Majumdar, Ms. Drumm and to all family members of Mr. Jimmie Anklam, I am so truly, profoundly remorseful for the loss of your cherished loved one. From the depth of my soul, I have never been more sincere about any words I’ve ever spoken. During the first meeting I had with my attorney, I asked if I could write a letter to you all to express my sincere sadness and to apologize. I was told there would come a time for that, and the time is finally here. For two long years I’ve waited to be able to say these words. This is definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I appreciate the opportunity to address you today. I know there is nothing I could ever say to change things or to bring Mr. Anklam back. I want you to know that I have a heavy heart, and that not a single hour goes by in my waking days that I do not think of the pain I caused you. I am full of shame for this sadness I have brought upon my family and friends. What I have done is tearing me apart. Although it was a sad, terrible accident, I do take full responsibility. Mr. Anklam is gone, his life cut short because of me. I ask God, why did this happen? I honestly would give anything to trade places with him if I could. This intense, gut-wrenching guilt has devastated me emotionally, yet I know that it in no way compares to what I’ve put you all through. I am still here and he is gone, and I ask for God’s mercy on my soul. I pray that God will help heal the pain I have caused, and that you will someday know that in my heart, my concern has always been with you, the precious family of a wonderful man. I do not deserve your forgiveness, but I will continue to pray for it every day that I am still on this earth.”
During her address to Lapeyre, Judge Lopez scolded the longtime EDC director.
“What makes me more upset is that the Island is so small,” Judge Lopez said. “People can walk, take taxis. You need to realize how serious this is. You know the limit, the state legislature has set the limit, but it is so dangerous to consume any alcohol and get behind the wheel of a car. Then to not even have insurance to actually provide for the victims, that makes it even harder.”
In the meantime, the victim’s family members said while they look forward to gaining closure on the incident, the tragic events that occurred on Feb. 6, 2011 will stay with them.
“Finally, this has been two years going on,” Christine Anklam said. “We’re happy that this is done and over, and we can get on maybe with our lives, even though it will be hard without my husband.”
Read this story in the March 21 edition of the Port Isabel-South Padre Press, or subscribe to our E-Edition by clicking here.