Grieving family awaits delayed prosecution in hit-and-run death

The family has launched a social media campaign to draw attention to Tony’s case.

UPDATE: Alexandria Guillen was arrested Thursday, April 28, 2016, and charged in the hit-and-run death of Tony Moretti. As of Thursday evening, she was in jail with a total of $40,000 in bonds.

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Antonio “Tony” Moretti’s family wants justice. When the 16-year-old passenger was killed by a hit-and-run driver who mowed over the mini-motorcycle he was riding with a 15-year-old friend who was also critically injured in the incident, it devastated the family. But their heartache would only grow as the days, weeks and eventually months passed by without any arrest made or any case filed against the driver who took Tony’s life.

At the time of the incident – about 3 a.m. on Feb. 21, according to police – witnesses stated the driver of the hit-and-run auto continued driving for about a mile with the teens’ motorbike still embedded in the vehicle’s front end, sparks flying as it barreled down the roadway. It stopped not far from the Highway 69 off-ramp where the crash occurred, where the driver removed the mangled wreck of the motorbike from the car – and then continued on home.

One week later, Port Arthur police were still looking to determine who was driving the auto. Was it the woman who claimed she was driving or the male passenger she may have been covering for? But when they did put a face and a name to the driver of the hit-and-run automobile, Moretti’s family was stunned by what happened next.

“Nothing,” Moretti’s aunt, Lyndy Jacobs, said. “Nothing happened.”

Two months later, although police have a suspect in 20-year-old Alexandria Guillen, no charges have been filed and no arrests have been made.

On social media, the family is championing tougher sentencing laws. However, sentencing is a long way off for an offender who has yet to be charged with any crime.

Moretti’s family members said they have questioned the police as to why no justice has been forthcoming. According to them, the police were waiting on toxicology results of the motorbike driver first, as if impairment would alter the outcome.

“That’s bull,” Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Victim Services Specialist Kathy Bell-Schexnaider said of the delay. “Policing down there needs to step up.”

According to Schexnaider, she has advocated in many cases where both the victim and the driver were impaired – and she strongly believes hit-and-run drivers should be treated the same as intoxicated drivers.

“They need to work the law,” Schexnaider said. “The driver should still be prosecuted, regardless of the tox of the victim.

“I’ve always said there’s only three reasons to leave the scene of an accident where you kill someone – drunk, warrants, illegal. And I’ve recently added a fourth – stolen car. Still, more often than not, it’s because they’re impaired.”

“I’m fighting to make it mandatory that a suspect be arrested when they kill someone in a hit-and-run,” Tony’s mother, Amber Jacobs-Alfaro, wrote in support of an online petition to do just that. “The sentence for this is 2 to 20 years. Two years is a joke when it comes to a life being taken. I feel that the minimum sentence should be 20 years to a maximum of life. It’s not fair to the victim or their family that the suspect gets to go home and enjoy life until they are charged. I understand accidents happen, but when the suspect leaves the victims for dead and continues on like nothing happened, that becomes a crime.”

But to date, this crime has yet to be prosecuted.

Lyndy Jacobs said that she believes Guillen was not arrested because police say she was cooperative with the investigation – although Guillen did not volunteer her help all on her own, according to Alfaro.

“The suspect only stopped a mile down the road to dislodge the moped (Tony) was on and then continued to her apartment,” Alfaro stated. “The police were able to make contact, and that is the only reason they were able to get a statement out of her.”

Jefferson County District Attorney Bob Wortham said in relation to a separate hit-and-run case that resulted in death disposed of earlier this year that hit-and-run incidents where a death is involved fall under the same sentencing guidelines as intoxication manslaughter. However, the judge sentenced the driver in that case to only 90 days in jail and 10 years of probation – a conviction that will not be put on the offender’s permanent record as long as he successfully completes the judgment entered against him.

And probation is not uncommon for hit-and-run drivers or drunk drivers. Schexnaider said her husband was killed by a drunk driver while weed-eating his mother’s grass.

“He got six months county jail, and probation,” she said of the driver. “He was a 62-year-old lifetime drunk in Fred, Texas — with no prior DWIs, though. They rarely get caught the first time, and it usually isn’t until they kill somebody that anyone pays attention.”

Case in point, Gene Andrew Shumaker – who was sentenced for his fifth DWI this week in Judge Raquel West’s 252nd District Court in Jefferson County. The district attorney had offered seven years in jail. He rejected the offer and went before a judge, where he was given state rehab and probation. What really boiled Schexnaider’s blood was this was not the first time Shumaker had been ordered to rehab – he’s even been on probation, ordered to jail, and had probation revoked (multiple times each) — and yet he has chosen to re-offend again and again.

“You cannot force an offender to change,” she said. “They have to want to do that themselves. This guy has not shown that he wants to do that.”

“They say it is a disease,” Schexnaider continued. “Alcoholism is a disease – that’s true. But when you choose to turn the key in the ignition, then you’ve committed a crime.”

Schexnaider said she was disappointed – and a little surprised – at the Shumaker sentence.

“I was expecting prison time,” she said. “I think he was expecting prison time, too.

“When the judge sentenced him, it was said that he was given a gift. I just wonder what gift has been given to the citizens of Jefferson County to have protection from him. Our judicial system lets this one crime have more gifts than any other crime — and we, as a society, we let it happen.

“He is a death waiting to happen. Then that victim’s family will know what Jefferson County did. They could have protected the citizens of Jefferson County from him for up to 10 years, but they didn’t.”

In the months that Tony’s killer has been left unpunished, his family has wondered too if their community is safe, while still vowing to secure justice for their lost loved one.

“There are not enough words to describe how much we love and miss your crazy, funny, kind, awesome and, of course, a little wild self,” Lyndy Jacobs wrote to her nephew on the two-month anniversary of his death. “We think that it gets easier with time, but the truth is that void, that giant hole in our souls, will remain empty and in the front of our minds daily.

“However, we will continue to carry you with us in our hearts everywhere we go and all we do. YOU WILL HAVE JUSTICE on this side and on the other side.”

 

Jennifer Johnson can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 231, or by e-mail at jennifer [at] theexaminer [dot] com.

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