Dylan Morse, the 18-year-old son of Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II, was sentenced Wednesday to 12 years, four months in state prison for drinking and driving, killing one man, and injuring two other people -- one of whom was his best friend.
The younger Morse sat quietly, his face red, and his hands folded in front of him, as Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Gnoss determined his fate.
"We will not tolerate, we will not accept this type of crime," Gnoss said, in making his decision, which was recommended by Sonoma County's probation department.
Morse must serve at least 85 percent of that sentence, which means he'll be eligible for parole in about 10 years, four months.
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Morse was arrested Feb. 14 after causing a two-car collision near Cotati. California Highway Patrol investigators said the car he was driving, a 1998 Volvo, passed through a red light around 2:20 a.m., at the intersection of Stony Point Road and Highway 116. Morse smashed into a 1988 Honda driven by 22-year-old Alexander Ruiz of Oakland, killing him.
The crash seriously injured a passenger, 19-year-old Ryne Spitzer, who remains in a coma. Vanessa King, the 25-year-old passenger in Ruiz's car, received a broken arm and facial lacerations.
In making his determination, Gnoss, a former prosecutor with the Sonoma County District Attorney's Office, said the decision was difficult, particularly because he has children in the same age group as the victims.
Although Gnoss acknowledged that he'd read letters from Dylan Morse's friends and family members asking for leniency, he felt it was important to send a strong message to the community on drinking and driving. "No matter what the sentence, I hope that it does not come close to the sentence you should impose on yourself for the rest of your life," Gnoss told Morse sternly.
Morse cried profusely throughout much of the two and a half hour hearing as members of the victim's family read impact statements. Wearing a light blue dress shirt and khakis, he took out a yellow piece of paper and read a written statement to the victims' families, apologizing for his actions.
In the part of his speech directed at Ruiz's family, he said in a lowered voice, "All I can say to you is I will spend the rest of my life honoring Alex, by trying to live a life worthy of him," Dylan Morse said.
The courtroom was packed with supporters of families on all sides. More than a dozen of Ruiz's family members wore white T-shirts with a photograph of him smiling.
Michael Ruiz, the father of Alexander Ruiz, declined comment after leaving the courtroom. During the hearing, he called his son "one of the best people that this world offered."