Ex-coach gets 12 years in fatal Fresno DUI

Father accepts apology at tearful case's end

plopez@fresnobee.comSeptember 2, 2013 


Former Central High basketball coach Loren LeBeau is handcuffed in the courtroom of Judge Gregory Fain on Aug. 29, 2013. LeBeau received a 12 year sentence for the DUI hit-and-run which resulted in the death of 7-year-old Donovan Maldonado.

MARK CROSSE — Fresno Bee Staff Photo

— Former Central High basketball coach Loren LeBeau has been sentenced to 12 years in prison in the drunken-driving hit-and-run death of 7-year-old Donovan Maldonado in July 2012.

Before he left in handcuffs, a teary-eyed LeBeau, 43, told Donovan's family he was sorry for causing them so much pain and asked them to forgive him.

"I wish I would have seen him. I wish I would have stopped," he said in Fresno County Superior Court.

Donovan's tearful father, Jesse Maldonado, who was seriously injured by LeBeau's car, accepted the apology. He later thanked LeBeau for his remorseful words about Donovan and his family.

LeBeau's punishment concludes a case in which both sides shed tears for a Fresno boy who loved family, school and sports, but whose life was cut short when he was dragged under LeBeau's car for more than 800 feet, according to police estimates.

Donovan, his father and younger sister, Bella, were struck as they crossed Shepherd Avenue in a northeast Fresno crosswalk that's part of the Sugar Pine Trail. City officials are finishing a tunnel to replace the crosswalk that should be completed by December.

LeBeau lost his job as coach and is going to prison for at least 10 years. He told the judge that telling his wife, Sarah, and their four children about the fatal crash was hard. His 9-year-old daughter asked if he knew it was illegal to drink and drive.

"Crying and ashamed, I said, 'Yes,' " LeBeau told the judge at last week's sentencing.

LeBeau's 12-year prison sentence was part of a June 12 agreement in which he pleaded no contest to felony charges of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, hit-and-run causing death and injuries, and drunken driving.

Thursday's hearing was emotional, with Donovan's family and friends sitting on one side of Judge Gregory Fain's courtroom and LeBeau's supporters on the other.

Each side focused on Donovan's loss to his family, except for one of LeBeau's supporters, who blamed Jesse Maldonado for not watching his son more closely. Fain stopped the proceedings. LeBeau's attorney, Jeff Hammerschmidt, escorted the man from the courtroom; LeBeau apologized to Donovan's family.

The Maldonados haven't been the same since Donovan's death, his father said.

"It's like a bad dream that you can't wake up from," he told Fain.

Jesse Maldonado said he used to be athletic, but now uses a wheelchair and crutches and might lose his legs. With help Thursday, he stood to deliver his statement.

He said his wife, Maria, used to be outgoing but is so depressed she seldom leaves the house or talks. Every night, Donovan used to kiss his mother and say good night. She would always pick him up at school.

"Our perfect family is over," a sobbing Jesse Maldonado said.

"My wife cries herself to sleep and wakes up in the middle of the night," he said, noting that she saw LeBeau's car hit and drag Donovan. "Can you imagine the horror of watching your baby boy take his last breath and knowing there was nothing she could do?"

Bella, then 18 months old, was near death and had to be revived at the hospital, her father said. She and her older sister, Adriana, miss their brother.

"They have mental scars that may never heal," Jesse Maldonado said.

His tearful comments caused Fain to wipe his eyes. LeBeau didn't cry.

Before his punishment was announced, LeBeau said he was sorry and wanted to hug Jesse Maldonado, walking toward him before he was told to stop by bailiffs. He returned to the defense table and for the first time gave a blow-by-blow account of what happened that night.

He said he was driving home on July 25, 2012, from Bass Lake, where he drank beer and swam. He was headed west on Shepherd at 9:11 p.m. when "there was a collision that I never saw." It was dark and the crosswalk was not well lit, he said. "I saw nothing. I did not brake. I did not swerve." He said he was driving the speed limit — about 40 mph — when he felt something hit his car.

"It felt like a cannon ball just dropped from the sky," he said. "I did not stop right away because I panicked. I feared for my own safety." He said he drove around the block with his windshield damaged and returned to the scene in six minutes.

"I was distraught, scared," he said. "There was never any intent to run or hide." He said he didn't call 911 after he returned to the crash site because he heard sirens and saw police arriving. "I stood by my car praying in a bewildered state, still not knowing who or what I hit," he said.

When police approached, LeBeau said he told officers he was the driver involved in the accident and that he had been drinking.

Looking at Donovan's father, he said, "as God is my witness, I did not know or feel anything under my car." Submitted to the court were nine letters from supporters who included basketball coaches Vance Walberg, Pat Geil and John Jones. LeBeau also wrote a letter to the judge.

In announcing the sentence, Fain took into account LeBeau's lack of a criminal record and his early admission of responsibility. Because of the serious injuries and death, LeBeau will have to serve 85 percent of the sentence, slightly more than 10 years, before he is eligible for parole.

LeBeau has agreed to pay close to $759,000 in restitution to the Maldonado family to cover medical bills through May 24 for Jesse and Bella Maldonado.

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