A Cambria man with a history of alcohol abuse was sentenced Monday to four years in jail for causing a drunken ATV accident that killed his lifelong friend.
A jury had previously convicted Garrett Taylor, 30, of auto theft and vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
According to trial testimony, in the early morning hours of July 15, 2012, Taylor left a party near Cambria with Justin Evans, 20, on a stolen Yamaha Rhino ATV.
Around 4 a.m., a couple leaving the same party found the ATV crashed into a tree. An unconscious Taylor was still in the vehicle while Evans’ lifeless body lay on the ground outside the passenger side.
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Two hours after the crash, Taylor’s blood alcohol level was 0.18 percent — well over California’s 0.08 percent limit for driving.
Taylor, who suffered a concussion and fractured vertebrae during the crash, said he had no recollection of the accident. During the trial, his attorney, Mitch Haddad, argued that Evans had been the driver.
After his conviction, Taylor faced a possible jail sentence ranging from 16 months to four years and eight months.
In a statement filed with the court before the hearing, the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office cited several aggravating factors, including a prior alcohol-related reckless driving conviction in 2007. After pleading no contest to charges in that case, the statement noted, Taylor signed a plea form stating that in the future he could be charged with murder if someone was killed as a result of his drinking and driving.
The prosecution’s statement also noted that in 2010, Taylor and a friend, 21-year-old Kyle Lucas, had spent a night drinking together. After leaving Taylor’s home the next morning, Lucas — driving with a 0.26 percent blood alcohol content — was killed when he rolled his car on Highway 1.
Taylor, who also had four speeding convictions from 2006 and 2007, did not learn from his past mistakes, assistant district attorney Lee Cunningham told the court.
“I don’t believe he’ll quit drinking. I don’t believe he’ll quit driving,” Cunningham said. “I don’t believe he’ll quit doing both at the same time.”
Taylor, who works for his father’s ranch in Cambria, has a 1-year-old daughter with his fiancée.
During his pre-sentencing interview with the county probation department, Taylor admitted to having a drinking problem, saying that hard alcohol had made him confrontational and changed his personality.
While he did not speak in court during his sentencing, Taylor told the probation department he was not a danger to society.
“Everybody is acting like the accident killed some stranger,” the report quoted him as saying. “I knew Justin since he was 5 years old. He was a very good friend, if not my best friend.”
While DNA belonging to Taylor was found on the driver’s side of the vehicle and DNA belonging to Evans was found on the passenger side, Taylor told probation officers he was not convinced that he had been the driver.
“The investigation has nothing to put me in the driver’s seat,” he said. “They didn’t even fingerprint the steering wheel. I think they just figured they had an open-and-shut case. I got the blame since I was the one who survived.”
While members of Evans’ family attended the sentencing, no one spoke. Instead, the victim’s parents, Raymond and Mary Evans, offered a written statement, which was read in court.
Lucas’ death in 2010, they said, should have changed Taylor’s habits.
“Even after this, Garrett does not get the fact that you should not drink and drive,” they wrote.
Taylor, they added, doesn’t understand how his actions impact others.
“Our son Justin was only 20 and just starting his ventures in life,” they wrote.
The probation department, noting Taylor’s failure to show empathy for the victim’s family and his inability to accept responsibility for the crime, recommended the maximum sentence.
Superior Court Judge Donald Umhofer said Taylor was a different person when consuming alcohol.
“He’s obviously a person who you do not want to be around when he has been drinking,” Umhofer said.
Umhofer split Taylor’s sentence so he will spend the first 2½ years in jail and the rest on probation. That will require someone to check on the defendant to make sure he doesn’t drink upon his release, Umhofer said.
“I think Mr. Taylor needs some supervision,” the judge said.
Taylor was given credit for 121 days already served.
Before the sentencing, Umhofer denied a defense motion for a new trial.