Driver of van that killed Auburn cab driver gets 12 years

The man who crashed his van into Brian Love's taxi in the early morning hours of July 5, 2013, killing the popular Auburn cabbie, learned last Friday he would be heading to prison for 12 years.

But probably not for that long.

The reality is that with good behavior and for time already served on the vehicular homicide charge, 30-year-old Floyd Gonzalez could be on the streets again in eight years.

Friends and family of Love found the sentence Judge William A. Bowen had just imposed particularly bitter, noting that, because of a plea deal, Gonzalez would not have to answer for reckless endangerment and for fleeing the scene.

"No, I don't think that's enough," Cheryl Combs, Love's fiancée, said outside Courtroom 3H at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent just after the sentence was imposed,

In her presentation to the court, prosecuting attorney Amy Freedheim had earlier noted that Gonzalez was only six months out of prison on a serious assault charge when he killed Love.

"His driving was egregious," Freedheim said, describing the collision that City of Auburn cameras captured from beginning to end.

"His driving was at freeway speeds. A police officer had just cleared the intersection and looked to his left and saw the defendant traveling toward the intersection, and looked in his rearview mirror ... and knew what was happening," Freedheim said.

"The second car through the intersection on a solid red light was a taxi driven by 56-year-old Brian Love. Mr. Love had no chance at all. He entered the intersection, and the defendant's car — no braking, no evasive action — plowed into the driver's side of the car," Freedheim said.

The van smashed into the taxi with such force, Freedheim said, it killed Love on impact and pushed his mangled cab east through the intersection. The van itself rolled several times before coming to a stop upside down in the intersection.

Gonzalez ran off, not only without checking on Love but also leaving his own girlfriend trapped in the overturned van. Minutes later, officerscaught up to Gonzalez at South Division Street.

"His first reaction was to say he'd been running from a bad drug deal, not 'how is the victim?' not 'how is Latasha in my car?' It was, 'I was running from a drug deal,'" Freedheim said.

According to court records, Gonzalez had a blood-alcohol level of .12 at the time of the accident, above Washington State's .08 percent legal limit.

In June 2012, the state Legislature created a new law making vehicular homicide under the DUI prong equal to first-degree manslaughter, Freedheim said, as she argued for a stiff sentence.

"It recognizes that nobody in the 21st century ... gets into their car impaired and doesn't know" that he or she could kill or injure, Freedheim said.

In pleading for leniency, Gonzalez's attorney, Gordon Hill, decribed his client's troubled youth, the fetal alcohol syndrome from which he suffers and the time he'd spent in custody.

Love's sister, Karen Love-Brunheimer Brius, who traveled from Michigan to talk about her brother described through tears what his death means to her.

"Both our parents are gone, and now my only, immediate, surviving family member is also gone. Brian had no children. I have none, I have my husband and that is it. I am alone now," she said. "I ask that you give the maximum sentence allowed, Brian was a good man, a kind soul, and a decent human being who cared for others before himself."

"My life without Brian ... is lonely and scary," Combs said. "All of my dreams and hopes for the future are gone. I lost everything I cared about on July 5, my world ended, crushed to pieces. Brian was such an amazing man, full of love and caring for everyone. He never talked bad about anyone. I was looking forward to becoming his wife, but that was taken away, too.

"Now all I have are dreams and memories and panic attacks every time I hear sirens or garbage trucks banging containers, which reminds me of the sound I heard the night Brian got killed ...I will never forgive you for taking Brian away from me," Combs said turning to Gonzalez, who sat impassively through most of the proceedings.

In his address to the court, however, Gonzalez could not escape a terrible irony: that Love, a generous man known for giving free taxi rides to alcoholically-impaired people, should lose his life at the careless hands of a drunken driver.

"I have learned that he was there for people who were impaired, such as myself," Gonzalez said. ... "I can only apologize and ask for forgiveness."

The sentence recognized that Gonzalez was a convicted felon who spent 10 years in prison for second-degree assault and first-degree kidnapping. Gonzalez must obtain a substance abuse evaluation with followup treatment, attend a DUI victim's panel and comply with ignition interlock requirements.

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