A Speegleville woman who was driving the wrong way on State Highway 6 when she caused a fatal, three-vehicle crash in 2016 was placed on deferred probation and jailed Tuesday.
Judge Ralph Strother of Waco’s 19th State District Court accepted a plea agreement between prosecutors and Savannah Nihcole Cardoza and sentenced her to deferred probation for 10 years. As a condition of probation, the judge also sentenced Cardoza to 180 days in the county jail, which she will serve before starting her term of probation.
Strother noted Cardoza tested positive for marijuana and cocaine during a presentence investigation by probation officers, which was launched after Cardoza pleaded guilty in November to manslaughter, aggravated assault and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.
“It’s hard for me to conceive of such total lack of judgment,” Strother told Cardoza at her sentencing hearing Tuesday.
The judge also placed Cardoza on deferred probation for 10 years for aggravated assault and for five years for unlawful use of a motor vehicle.
In deferred adjudication cases, there is no final judgment of guilt and there is no conviction on a defendant’s record if she successfully completes probation.
The crash on State Highway 6 near the Lake Waco Twin Bridges killed Donald Lawrence Ray, 54, of Weatherford and injured others in another car. Cardoza was a 17-year-old Midway High School student at the time.
Police said in arrest affidavits that Cardoza was an unlicensed driver and had never taken a driving class, that she took her sister’s car without permission and that she was driving in the wrong lane at the time of the crash.
Cardoza was driving north in the southbound lanes at about 3 a.m. when she crashed the car into another vehicle occupied by a man and a woman.
Ray, who was driving an 18-wheeler carrying nonhazardous glycerine ether, tried unsuccessfully to avoid the wreck. He flipped his truck and rolled into a guardrail, police said. Ray died at the scene and had to be extracted from the truck.
Cardoza and the couple in the other car were treated for broken bones and other injuries at a local hospital.
In emotional victim-impact statements after Cardoza was sentenced, Ray’s younger sister talked of spending the day with him three days before he died and told Cardoza she forgives her. She said she knows her brother is in a better place and told Cardoza she hopes she also finds Christ in her life.
Oneal Mbawke, who was injured in the car, also spoke positively, saying, “You can be a victim or you can be a victor.” Addressing Ray’s wife in the courtroom, he said, “You are a victor.”
After the hearing, Cardoza’s family members hugged members of the victims’ families in the courtroom.