The driver that caused the death of a 64-year-old Oakdale pedestrian in February and then fled the scene has been sentenced to seven years in state prison.
On Dec. 4, Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Ricardo Cordova sentenced Gabriel Bocanegra, 25, of Riverbank, to the seven-year term for vehicular homicide with gross negligence and felony hit and run causing death as a result of a no-contest plea. A no-contest plea, while not a guilty plea, has the same immediate effect as pleading guilty.
On Feb. 22, just after 5 p.m., Thomas Vernon Larson of Oakdale was crossing F Street near Third Avenue in the crosswalk when he was struck by a black Mercedes, breaking the windshield as he was struck by the vehicle. The driver then fled the scene. Witnesses reported the Mercedes traveling an estimated 40 to 50 mph prior to the collision and observed the driver breaking out the car’s shattered windshield as it sped away.
The Mercedes was later recovered by Oakdale Police on Pinodos Court about two miles away.
The car was registered to a Riverbank address. With the assistance of the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department, deputies followed an unknown female, who was later identified as Bocanegra’s mother, from that address who drove to pick up Bocanegra less than a mile away from the abandoned car. Police then arrested Bocanegra.
The police investigation revealed Bocanegra was on his way home from a local marijuana dispensary when he came across other vehicles stopped at the intersection. Bocanegra sped around the other cars using the left-only turn lane and struck Larson in the crosswalk.
A subsequent blood test showed marijuana metabolites in Bocanegra’s system. His driving history showed two convictions for speeding and also convictions for exhibition of speed, running a stop sign and being the at-fault driver of another collision.
“It’s what I expected,” said Larson’s daughter, Kim Bianchi, who added the district attorney’s office and Deputy DA Tony Colacito kept in contact with the family. “I’m not 100 percent thrilled with it, but it’s probably the best we could have gotten.”
The maximum sentence could have been 11 years.
Bianchi said she had much gratitude to the witnesses that gave information to the police during the investigation. She wanted to acknowledge the emergency crews and both the Oakdale Police and Stanislaus Sheriff’s departments as well as the medical teams that worked that day.
“I’ve been overwhelmed by the support and kinds words from the people of this wonderful town,” Bianchi said. “Even now.”