Sep. 14—An Odessa man who killed four people while street racing four years ago received the maximum possible sentence Wednesday of 20 years in prison.
It took an Ector County jury 2.5 hours to decide Albertico Valenzuela’s fate. He’ll be eligible for parole after serving five years.
Valenzuela was 17-years-old when he happened upon El Paso resident Christian Flores, 22, while driving west down West 16th Street on Oct. 1, 2018. The two were both driving Dodge Challengers and began racing each other.
Texas Department of Public Safety accident reconstructionist Sgt. Jon Shock told jurors Tuesday the data recorders in both Challengers showed the young men were traveling at 111 miles an hour when they crossed FM1936 and hit the dip in the road. Flores’s car went airborne, causing it to accelerate to 125 mph before landing.
The data recorders show the cars were traveling at 108-109 miles an hour when Valenzuela’s car veered into Flores’ car, causing it to skid sideways into the oncoming lane of traffic, Shock said. Less than two seconds later, Flores’ car careened into Araceli Galbadon, who was driving 10 miles below the speed limit, with her three children.
She had no time to react, Shock said. Her car was sent backwards, spinning 180 degrees and hitting a pickup parked in a game room lot before stopping.
Galbadon, 47, was killed along with two of her children, Kassandra DeLaGarza, 20, and Elias DeLaGarza, 9. Sergio DeLaGarza, 15, broke one of his clavicles and suffered extensive injuries to his intestines that kept him in the hospital for a month. Flores was also killed.
Sergio DeLaGarza, now 20, testified Tuesday the family was five minutes from home after a trip to Mexico at the time of the crash. He awakened to his mother’s scream seconds before impact, her arm reaching across him to protect him.
Valenzuela pleaded guilty to four counts of racing on a highway Monday and jurors were asked to decide if the 21-year-old should be placed on probation or if he should receive a prison sentence of between two and 20 years. The maximum amount of time Valenzuela could have been placed on probation was 10 years.
Prosecutors Greg Barber and Carmen Villalobos asked the jurors to sentence Valenzuela to the maximum. They noted that less than two years after the crash, Valenzuela was arrested for crashing into a fence while drunk. One of his tires blew and he continued to drive on just the rim.
Villalobos reminded jurors of the video they watched of Valenzuela’s DWI arrest and how “sloshed” he was.
“We’re not saying he’s a monster, that’s he’s the worst person in the world,” Villalobos said. “Yes, he’s young, but actions have consequences.”
Barber noted that during the jury selection process they all said street racing was an issue in Ector County.
“Now’s your chance to do something about it, now’s the time you get to send a message,” Barber said.
Defense attorney Phillip Wildman asked for mercy for his client, noting his age at the time of the event. Valenzuela’s fianceé, mother, aunt and employer all testified on his behalf, describing him as a caring, loving and responsible young man who is a role model for his younger brothers. They said he consistently holds a job and is helping raise his pregnant fianceé’s daughters.
A sentence of probation, “gives him a chance. It give’s him a chance at a lot of things, a chance to grow up, mature, be a better man,” Wildman said.
Valenzuela already isn’t the same person he was, Wildman said.
The defense attorney also reminded the jurors Valenzuela stayed at the scene, called 911 and flagged down troopers, who didn’t even know another vehicle was involved in the crash.
Valenzuela testified earlier Wednesday that the day of the crash started out like any other day. Then a senior at Odessa High School, Valenzuela said he went to school and his job at an auto parts store. After work, he went to his sister’s to celebrate his dad’s birthday and then stopped off at Walmart on Loop 338 to pick up dog food.
He was on his way home when he came across Flores. He said the older man started revving his engine when they came alongside each other and they started to race. He testified they collided about a minute later and he truly believed it was Flores who hit him, not the other way around. He also said he had no idea how fast they’d been going.
When asked why he repeatedly told law enforcement officers they hadn’t been racing, Valenzuela blamed his age.
“I was 17. I was scared. I didn’t know what to do. I was terrified,” Valenzuela said.
Valenzuela, who turns 22 in November, told his attorney the crash has been hard to deal with and he has woken up screaming and sweaty from nightmares. He no longer drives on West 16th Street, he said.
At the time of his DWI arrest in July 2020, Valenzuela said alcohol was his “best friend.”
“It was the only way I could deal with everything,” Valenzuela told Wildman.
He is now trying to become “a better person, role model, significant other and father,” he testified.
Under cross examination from Barber, Valenzuela admitted he’d raced other cars prior to the crash and knew the dip was in the road. He acknowledged his behavior was not acceptable.
When asked what he’d like to say to the victims’ family, Valenzuela said he is remorseful, but “no words can justify what happened that night” and no words can help them recover from their loss.
Valenzuela said he was asking for a second chance.
“Were you thinking about second chances the night you were driving around drunk on three wheels?” Barber asked him.
During his closing arguments, Barber hammered on Valenzuela’s decision to drink and drive after having killed four people. Even if he needed alcohol to cope with the crash, he could have stayed home, Barber said.
“Is that matured? Is that changed?” Barber said.
Valenzuela spoke about having nightmares, but they should think about Sergio DeLaGarza and how he’s living with the images of that night, Barber said.
Barber showed jurors a picture of Araceli Galbadon with her children taken months before the crash, apologized and then flashed their autopsy pictures on the courtroom screen.
“When you have people take actions like Mr. Valenzuela, these become the pictures,” Barber said.
Again, Barber urged the maximum sentence.
“Mr. Wildman is asking you not to judge him for two days out of his life,” but think about the final two seconds of Araceli Galbadon’s life as she put her arm across her son, Sergio, Barber asked the jurors.
Following the jury’s decision, two of Araceli Galbadon’s nieces spoke about the huge hole that has been left in their entire family’s heart. They described Galbadon as the matriarch of the family who could always be counted on for her advice and support. They spoke about the fact Kassandra’s boyfriend had to put the engagement ring he planned to give her at Christmas into her coffin instead and how they were convinced Elias, an “innocent angel,” was going to be the first doctor in the family.
“I pray for the day I can forgive you because I don’t want to carry this hate in my heart forever,” one of the nieces said.