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Hit and Run Yields One Year in Prison

Victim doesn't testify; more than 15 family members and friends show support.

Guillermo Escobar was sentenced to one year in jail for driving while intoxicated and the hit and run accident that permanently injured Fairfax Police Lt. Randall C. Hargus.

"This case involves a very serious crime committed by the defendant," said Judge Arthur B. Vieregg Jr., who sentenced Escobar last Friday, Aug. 12, in Fairfax County Circuit Court.

"The defendant consumed some amount of alcohol … he got behind the wheel on a dark, snowy night and, in effect, turned that vehicle into a weapon," said Tara Mooney, assistant commonwealth's attorney.

Lt. Hargus was helping a motorist on Richmond Highway at Memorial Street at approximately 10:30 p.m. on Feb. 24, 2005. When Escobar’s truck struck Hargus' police car, the force of impact moved the police vehicle 17 feet, pinning the officer between the police cruiser and Escobar's pick-up truck, according to testimony from Detective C. E. Beach. Beach found a large pool of Hargus' blood in the roadway and blood on the bumper of the police vehicle.

A witness observed the accident, called police and followed Escobar, who left the scene but was apprehended by police nine minutes later. His blood alcohol level was tested at 0.11; the legal limit in Virginia is 0.08.

Hargus was out of work for three months and has permanent nerve damage to his leg, according to Mooney.

Hargus, who was promoted to second lieutenant in March, did not testify and did not attend the sentencing hearing. Vieregg limited the amount of testimony from Beach.

"It would be one thing if you brought the victim," Vieregg said. "That's not to say that I'm not interested in the victim impact statement, which I have not seen. The commonwealth's witness has declined to come forward to us."

"Imagine what it was like [for Hargus]," Mooney said. "He was doing his job on the side of the road when he was hit by this man who did not have the courtesy or decency to stop."

Escobar, 41, a single father of five who was the family's sole provider, has been in jail since he pleaded guilty on June 28.

"I would like to say, I'm sorry to the officer. … Yes, I take full responsibility,'" said Escobar, aided by a Spanish translator. "When I hit the officer, I don't know, my mind changed. I got scared. The first thing I thought of was my children — I'm going to lose my children."

<b>"I'VE NEVER SEEN</b> a case as sad as this one. Had he stopped, he would not be here today," said Escobar's defense attorney Joel Atlas Skirble, immediately preceding the court hearing.

Escobar had no prior convictions or criminal record, Skirble said. "My client has led an exemplary life," he said in the courtroom.

Now that he has been convicted, Escobar could face possible deportation even though he has lived here legally for 18 years, Skirble said. Escobar received his green card in 1999, according to the pre-sentence report, and had work visas before that, according to Skirble.

"Should this cancel out all the good he has done with his life?" Skirble wrote, in a letter describing Escobar's life that he submitted to the judge. "He is not just another statistic in Fairfax County's fight against crime. He is not just another hit and run drunk driver."

Although Escobar faced a maximum of 16 years in prison for the three offenses — driving under the influence, unlawful wounding and failure to stop after an accident — sentencing guidelines recommended that he receive only one day to six months in prison, according to a pre-sentence report.

Judge Vierregg sentenced Escobar to three years on the counts of failure to stop at the scene of an accident and driving under the influence; he suspended all but 12 months. Escobar also was sentenced to three months for driving under the influence. All counts will run concurrently.

"This hearing is particularly difficult because neither attorney gives any credence to the circumstances that involve the other side," Judge Vieregg said. "It is quite clear that Mr. Escobar has lived an upstanding life, [and] finds himself in a situation made by his own doing."

<b>MORE THAN 15</b> family members and friends came to support Escobar, including his five children who range in age from nine to 17, according to court reports.

"I have seen the effects their father has had on them; I have seen the effects of his incarceration on them. He is the only single father I know," testified Denise Rouse, a former neighbor whose son is friends with one of Escobar's sons. "Devotion to children counts a lot to me and he is devoted to his children."

"He worked hard for his kids, he worked hard his whole life," said his cousin, Berthila Escobar, outside the courtroom.

To understand Escobar is to understand the poverty and obstacles he overcame, Skirble said.

According to the letter Skirble submitted to Vieregg:

By the time Escobar was six years old, he was already helping take financial care of his mother and siblings by milking cows and working the corn, beans and rice fields more than 40 hours a week in his 250-person village in Anamoro, El Salvador, which had no electricity or plumbing.

By the fourth grade, he stopped attending school so he could work all day long, earning $1.20 a day for his family.

By the time he was a teenager, he learned to work as a roofer/mason. But as a teenager, Escobar also witnessed the horror of the Civil War in El Salvador, and decided to flee to the United States with cousins after he saw three of his neighbors murdered.

"It was from this humble beginning that Guillermo Escobar was going to try and start a whole new life," wrote Skirble.

He moved to Virginia from Texas after his cousin was seriously injured in a car accident.

"Out of all the relatives, he was the one to come here to take care of my brother," Berthila Escobar testified.

Escobar worked as a busboy seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. at a Korean restaurant, according to Skirble, and eventually saved enough to pay for his cousin's mother and brothers to move to Virginia to take over the care of his cousin.

That's when Escobar started working construction, eventually earning close to $50,000 a year as a contractor and finishing foreman, which enabled him to be the sole provider for his five children. He had worked construction since the 1980s.

During the time he has been in the United States, he had continued to send money back to his mother and family in El Salvador.

<b>THE NIGHT OF</b> Feb. 24, 2005, Escobar went out to get food for his children at a local restaurant.

Escobar was drinking beer — three according to the pre-sentence report, six according to testimony from Detective Beach — before he lost control on the snowy roads and hit the officer.

"Drinking to excess has consequences," said Judge Vieregg. Permanent consequence to the officer who could have been killed, he said.

Escobar was originally charged with felony hit and run and malicious wounding of a police officer.

"It is so out of character," Skirble said in the courtroom. "My client has led an exemplary life."

Escobar's children are now staying with other family members, Skirble said. His oldest son is helping make mortgage payments on the house which Escobar put in a friend's name, according to the pre-sentence report.

"Give me the opportunity to fight for my children," Escobar said to Judge Vieregg.