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Cruz gets 8½ years in prison in death of Stacy Ankerfelt

Samuel Cruz was driving home from work July 19 when his car drifted to the side of a residential street in Auburn and struck Stacy Ankerfelt as she stood by her car.

Ankerfelt, 28, who had just finished her first year teaching fifth grade at Scenic Hills Elementary School in Kent, never regained consciousness. She died of her massive injuries one month later in a Seattle hospital.

Last Friday afternoon, following the recommendation of prosecutor Amy Freedheim, Judge LeRoy McCullough sentenced Cruz to the maximum 102 months – 8½ years – in prison. Cruz, 25, who had been under the influence of a prescription anxiety drug for Oxycontin withdrawal at the time of the crash, pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide (DUI) Jan. 2.

At Cruz' sentencing, people with vivid memories of a young woman who should still have been living but wasn't, poured out their grief and anger in McCullough's courtroom at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent.

Ashley Bonus remembered her big sister as a woman who was "changing the world with every life she touched," who "put her whole heart and soul into everything she did," especially her teaching, and who had used her summer vacation to bring sack lunches to her low-income students because she couldn't bear the thought that they would go hungry.

Bonus then urged McCullough to hand down the toughest possible sentence.

"On July 19 Samuel Cruz consciously chose to drive a vehicle while impaired. ... Samuel Cruz took an amazing woman from this Earth because he was careless," Bonus said.

Ankerfelt's mother, Terri Gammons, wanted the court to know something about the person Cruz had taken from the world.

Her daughter, Gammons said, was "a miracle baby," who had come into the world despite a difficult pregnancy. Showing giftedness early on, Stacy received a Presidential award at 10 for placing fourth in the country in an academic contest, Odyssey of the Mind. She graduated at the head of her 2002 Auburn Riverside High School class with honors and graduated from the University of Washington as the single student on the Dean's list all four years.

Her daughter and son-in-law, Jason, were trying to have a baby, Gammons recalled.

"She never got the chance to conceive," Gammons said through tears. "Samuel Cruz chose to drive under the influence, and while my Stacy was rolling up the windows in her car, he bull's-eyed her, and he ended her life."

Gammons wanted Cruz never to forget the sight of "my beautiful daughter" lying broken on the pavement.

"I'm glad I never saw it, because for the rest of my life, I will see her beautiful blue eyes losing their life, as we say goodbye, forever. Please, make sure that Samuel can never kill anyone again and give him the maximum penalty provided by the law."

Stacy's mother-in-law, Holly Ankerfelt, said Cruz had "forever taken the life and breath" from her grief-stricken son. The couple, she said, had met in high school, and Stacy was the love of her son's life.

"His grieving is very extensive, still," Ankerfelt said. "... He can't get past the pain."

Cruz, seated alongside his attorney, Douglas Woods, wept.

Woods said Cruz hadn't known that the medication he was taking would affect him as it did, had no intention of hurting anyone, and was sincerely sorry for what had happened.

Cruz's family and friends urged mercy in the sentencing.

His aunt, Carrie Wilson, said her family is praying for Ankerfelt's loved ones every day, praying they can find space for mercy and forgiveness.

"He's a good son, a good brother, grandson, cousin and friend," Wilson said of her nephew "... I ask the court to consider leniency in this matter. This was a terrible accident."

Cruz, said a family friend, was a young man who was working to shake an addiction. He had a good job, paid his taxes, and had been trying "so hard" to turn his life around.

Then Cruz, sobbing, addressed the Ankerfelt family.

"I had no intention of going out and taking your loved one's life," Cruz said. "I'd do anything to take back that day, but unfortunately, that's not possible."

Last June a law went into effect that raised the standard sentence range for vehicular homicide (DUI) from 31 to 41 months to 78 to 102 months, making it equal to a first-degree manslaughter first degree range. King County Prosecutors had pushed for the increased penalties in the 2012 legislative session.

Cruz, among the first to be charged after the new range went into effect, was the first to be sentenced in King County under the new law.

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