VISTA, Calif. – Sobbing and wiping away tears, a 20-year-old Southern California woman apologized to the family of the bicyclist she killed 17 months ago, before she was sentenced to a year in jail.
Sulem Garcia apologized for causing the death of 59-year-old Paul Burke. She told the court she was a girl suffering from depression who took medication to try and cope. She told Burke’s family that when she lost control of her car on May 23, 2017, she killed Burke, but she lost her life as well.
“That 19-year-old never came home that day, and she never came home at all,” Garcia said through tears during her sentencing hearing.
Burke left behind his wife of 36 years, Laura, three sons and one daughter.
Laura Burke spoke before Garcia was sentenced. She described her husband as a family man who worked two jobs to make ends meet. She talked about his love of surfing, golf and cycling. On the day of the accident he was just minutes away from his home when Garcia’s car veered off the road, hit his bicycle and killed him.
“That day, I drive down my street praying he was talking to a neighbor. But I came upon the accident and thought Paul would stop to help. As I parked and got closer, I saw a yellow tarp and his smashed bike,” Burke said, sobbing.
The crash happened around 5 p.m. in Fallbrook in the Pala Mesa Area on Old Highway 395, south of Pala Mesa Drive.
Garcia who takes anti-depressants, reported being tired as she drove home after taking her last final exam at Palomar College. She remained at the crash scene and changed her plea to guilty back in May.
Prosecutors then lowered the charges from vehicular manslaughter to negligent homicide.
Tuesday, the judge sentenced her to 365 days. With credit for time already served, Garcia will serve 120 days.