WEST JORDAN — A man who committed what was at first thought to be a hate crime aimed at LDS missionaries pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor Monday — and his attorney said there was no hate crime involved.

Joseph Patrick Romero, 21, pleaded guilty to attempted aggravated assault, a class A misdemeanor. The charge was reduced from third-degree felony aggravated assault through a plea bargain.

On Jan. 22, Romero ran his car into another young man during a fight involving five individuals. The man who was hit was taken to a hospital to be treated for head trauma and other injuries and received six stitches on the side of his head.

A class C misdemeanor charge of driving on a suspended license, filed against Romero, was dismissed.

Romero was sentenced to a year in jail, but jail time was suspended and he was put on probation. He also must pay part of the victim's medical costs and a fine totalling about $1,800, complete an anger management course, do 50 hours of community service and have no contact with the victim. He has written a letter of apology to the victim, and the prosecutor plans to forward it.

"I am really sorry," Romero told the judge. "I wish I had just driven away."

Third District Court Judge Terry L. Christiansen said he imposed no jail time because Romero has no criminal history and the victim did not ask for a jail sentence, nor did prosecutor Andrea Martinez.

"I hope you are sincere in your words," Christiansen told Romero. "Anytime somebody uses a car as a weapon, somebody could be killed or seriously injured."

Ron Yengich, Romero's attorney, said early indications suggested this was a hate crime aimed at two young men wearing white shirts and Radio Shack name tags who were mistaken for missionaries, presumably for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"Nothing could be further from the truth," Yengich told Christiansen. "My client is LDS."

Yengich said outside the courtroom that a witness may have been mistaken about the hate-crime aspect. Romero was never charged with a hate crime.

In the incident, Romero was driving with two juvenile friends and a fight erupted with two other young men who were playing football in a parking lot at the Sandy Mall, 9471 S. 700 East, during a work break.

Yengich said Romero drove his car to help one of his friends who had gotten out of the vehicle and hit one of the other young men in the fight.

"He tells me, and I believe him, he never intended to hit him (the victim)," Yengich said.

The court's charging document said Romero hit the man, knocked him onto the hood and windshield, then slammed on the brakes, throwing the victim off the car.

Yengich said the other two youths are facing charges of assault in juvenile court.

The judge scheduled Monday for sentencing to permit the victim to speak in court if he chose, but he was not present.


E-mail: lindat@desnews.com