During a sentencing hearing Monday in Santa Maria Superior Court, the families of two women killed in a drunken-driving crash in Orcutt last year talked about the “horrific tragedy” and five children now missing mothers due to Cameron Oliver’s “reckless,” “senseless” and “selflsh” actions.
Under a plea deal reached in February, Oliver, 26, was sentenced to 24 years to life in prison for the deaths of Leann Stauffer and Tricia Jensen, both 37 and of Santa Maria.
They died following a crash at high speed on Highway 135 north of Lakeview Road. A third passenger, Brian Freeborn, also was injured in the Feb. 6, 2017, crash. Oliver had a blood-alcohol content that exceeded 0.19 percent, and he was driving more than 125 mph at the time of the crash, according to the criminal complaint.
Under the negotiated disposition involving Deputy District Attorney Lynmarc Jenkins and Senior Deputy Public Defender S.E. Ballard, Oliver pleaded guilty to five charges, including second-degree murder and vehicular manslaughter.
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“I really hope that everybody in this room makes a commitment to never drink and drive, and to tell everybody they know the story to influence everybody they can to make sure this never happens again,” Judge James Voysey said.
His comments came after 45 minutes of victim-impact statements from Jensen’s and Stauffer’s families. Oliver’s family also delivered statements.
Jensen’s husband, Bobby Jensen, spoke about how the tragedy turned their lives upside down while noting the special moments she will miss in their three children’s lives.
“Our children lost so much and endured so much pain over this tragedy caused by an individual who is a repeat offender with no regard for human life,” he said. “Telling our children that their mother will never be coming home and hearing the wail in their voices and the look on their faces will forever haunt me.”
Use of ride-sharing transportation would have averted the tragedy, Bobby Jensen said, adding that he hopes others will think twice before getting behind the wheel while intoxicated.
“We have suffered dearly from this loss, and I would not want another family to experience the hell that we have this past year,” he said.
Jensen’s parents, Fred and Amy Rice and Nancy Akada, also spoke about the family’s loss of the woman with a dynamic personality.
The tragedy is compounded by the fact that Jensen and Stauffer were related. For the Rices it meant the loss of a daughter and niece, the Rices said.
“The amount of heartache that has hit our family is truly beyond measure,” Nicki Knepp read from the letter by the Rices. Akada, Jensen’s mom, said she regularly aches in her soul at the loss of her daughter. “I know for my mental health I need to forgive you. But you need to pay the consequences for such a selfish, stupid mistake that could have been avoided,” she said.
At the time of the crash, Oliver, who has a prior conviction for drunken driving, and Stauffer were in a relationship.
“Unfortunately for all us, you did not learn from your mistakes. You were supposed to be the one to protect Leann, to keep her safe,” said Stauffer's sister, Colleen Lee. “But because of your recklessness and disregard for others, we are here and without two women who didn’t deserve what they got.”
Stauffer’s mother, Shelly Freeman, recalled receiving the call every parent dreads.
“In that instant, my heart was irreparably broken, and I lost a part of a myself that to this day feels like a gaping wound inside of me that I believe I will take to my grave,” she said.
“This horrific tragedy has changed me in ways that I could never have anticipated.” “One thing that that keeps me getting up every day is my need to make sure I keep her voice alive,” Freeman said, vowing to speak at Oliver's future parole hearings.
In sorting through her daughter’s estate, Shelly Freeman said she discovered Oliver had used a credit card given to him by Jensen to post bail after his arrest.
“It was this credit card, her credit card, that he used to bail out of jail the day after he killed her. Who does that — posting bail on your dead girlfriend’s credit card the day after you killed her?”
Through the estate, Stauffer’s daughters essentially paid off the debt, Freeman said.
“I miss my daughter every single day, and I would never ever want another mother to experience what I have this past year,” she said.
Two slideshows playing on a screen reflected the lives of the women through the years as quiet sobbing and sniffling could be heart in the courtroom.
Oliver’s relatives spoke about his childhood, military service that ended with him getting kicked out of the Air Force, and history of alcoholism. The defendant’s mother, Krista Oliver, said he is committed to talking about his mistakes to help others learn.
“I know he will share this tragic event as a mentor and possibly a counselor one day. Cameron is now focused on what he can do to help others from this point forward,” she said.
“I know in my heart that if any one can turn this tragedy into a life lesson for others it is my Cameron,” his mom added.
After hearing from families, the Oliver spoke softly while staring down at the table, saying the word “sorry” seemed inadequate. He also said he wished there was anything he could do to trade places with the crash victims.
“I would do it in a heartbeat. I'd give you anything. I know what I did was my fault," he said. "I’m so sorry. I’m going to do whatever I can in the future to try to help as many, at least one, two, as many as possible.”