SALT LAKE CITY — When Blake Timothy Molder stood to be sentenced Monday, he faced two struggling families and a packed courtroom full of people with tissues in hand.
"This case presents an agonizing decision," 3rd District Judge James Blanch said.
On one side, he had a 24-year-old man, clearly remorseful, and with no prior criminal history. On the other, he had a woman and two children who had lost a husband and father in a crash caused while Molder was driving under the influence.
Michael Gallegos, 39, was also a football coach at Cottonwood High School. His children, the judge pointed out, just went one Thanksgiving without their father and are about to know a Christmas without him.
"The debt to society that you owe is vast," Blanch said. "The debt is prison."
Blanch ultimately ordered Molder to spend one to 15 years in prison for automobile homicide while driving under the influence of alcohol and or drugs, a second-degree felony. Molder's mother, Tammy, said she understood the judge's decision.
"Blake needs to pay for what he's done. For him to walk out wouldn't be the right thing," she said. "It's not always a monster that does things like this. He was just a 23-year-old kid that was burning the candle at both ends, working and going to school. … Blake is a good kid."
Around 3 a.m. on June 23, Gallegos was struck from behind while stopped at the intersection of 9800 South and Bangerter Highway. Police officers said the impact buckled the frame of his car until the back of the vehicle touched the back of the front seats, killing Gallegos on impact.
Debbie Gallegos said her husband left around 10 p.m. on June 22 for a birthday party in downtown Salt Lake City. She doesn't know what took him to Bangerter and 9800 South at 3 a.m., but she thinks he may have been giving a friend a ride.
There were no skid marks or signs of braking before the crash, and speed was estimated at more than 90 mph.
Debbie Gallegos spoke about losing her best friend — her "furnace" in the winter who kept her warm and "personal chef" who loved cooking with his young daughter, who loved to help. Her family has struggled financially without their primary breadwinner. They were on her husband's insurance.
Even still, she reiterated that what Molder did affected more than just her family, as it extended to the students her husband worked with, his friends and all of their families.
"Hundreds, if not thousands of lives were affected by that one poor decision," she told Molder.
Gallegos had just finished his 18th year of coaching football at Cottonwood High School. He had coached at Highland, East and Cottonwood high schools in sports as varied as wrestling, football, golf and softball. His wife said it was his passion.
After the crash, Molder was treated at a hospital and told police he was driving from a bar where he had three beers and a shot of tequila. He also admitted to smoking marijuana earlier in the day, according to prosecutors. Molder's blood alcohol level was later found to be 0.116, above the legal limit in Utah of 0.08.
"It was the worst decision I've made in my life," Molder said Monday. "I will do everything in my power to help that family out. They are in my thoughts and prayers every day. … I truly am so sorry for what I've done and I wish I could take back that day. … It just breaks my heart for the family. I just can't believe what I've done."
He quoted scriptures about restoring what has been lost and said he plans to teach others the lessons that he has learned. He hopes to speak at schools and in driver education classes to warn others about the dangers of drinking and driving.
"It's an awful thing that I've done and I wake up every morning wishing this was one big dream," he said. "I know that a lot of good can come from this. I know I can save a lot of people's lives."
Molder pleaded guilty in October. In exchange for his plea, misdemeanor charges of a traffic control signal violation and speeding 95 mph in a 60 mph zone were dismissed.
"Blake's made some very bad decisions and he's taken accountability for those, and I'm grateful for that as a father," Tim Molder said. "He's ensured this was a speedy trial to bring closure to your family and to ours. … I hope someday you are able to forgive him. He is a good boy. I wouldn't trade him for anybody. I know he's sorry for what he's done."
Molder's family said they opted against bailing the man out of jail and said Molder never asked them to. He has spent 163 days in jail and the man's attorney, Rex Bray, said he can already see a difference in his client. He asked for jail time and probation.
But prosecutor Sandi Johnson said Molder has said he knew what he was doing the night he got into his car while under the influence and that the decision he made to drive was a criminal one that requires criminal consequences. She asked the judge to impose the prison sentence.Comment on this story
After the hearing, Debbie Gallegos said she just wanted the sentence that the judge felt was fair. Mostly, she was just glad it was over. It was similar to what she had told Molder minutes earlier in court.
"Blake, I want you to know that I have never felt resentment or a need for revenge towards you. I have turned this burden over to the Lord," she said.
"Turn this tragic and senseless situation into something positive. I hope and pray that you will never go out and drink and drive. Be an example to your friends so another family never has to go through what me and my family have gone through."