Drug addict gets stiff prison term for plowing car into group of cyclists

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SAN DIEGO — A methamphetamine addict who drove the wrong way on Fiesta Island and plowed into a group of cyclists, critically injuring a lead rider, was sentenced  to 19 years in prison Thursday.

Theresa Lynn Owens, 50, was convicted last month of felony driving under the influence of drugs and a misdemeanor charge of possession of meth. Jurors also found that Owens personally inflicted great bodily injury to Juan Carlos Vinolo, causing permanent paralysis, and inflicted great bodily injury to three others.

Before sentencing, Owens address the court and asked the judge to show leniency and give her a chance to start over because of her young children and elderly parents. “I’m not mental despite what she wants to sit there and say… I’m not.” Said Owens.  “My parents are old, my children are young. I’m 50. You’ve been kind to me. Please continue to be kind. Do not take my future and a new beginning away from me.”

But Deputy District Attorney Jessica Coto argued that Owens has not taken responsibility for her actions and remains a danger to society. She asked the judge to give Owens the maximum possible sentence of 20 years and 6 months in prison. As Coto asked the judge to take Owens out of society, the defendant shook her head and mumbled.

“When Mrs. Coto wants to sit there and say that I was yelling at the sky, well that’s because I was mad. I couldn’t believe what was happening to me, and what was happening to those people and I was having a really bad day. Everybody was but you know what I’m thankful that everyone survived. And no one died.” Said Owens in court.

Owens continued on begging the judge for mercy. “You’ve been kind to me. Please continue to be kind. Do not take my future and a new beginning away from me.”

The judge denied Owens probation and sentenced her to 19 years in state prison. “I think on that day, you were just thinking of you. Your conduct and actions without any regard for anyone else… I think you lost your heart that day… and as a result you caused significant, significant damage.” Said the judge.

In her closing argument, Coto told jurors that Owens made a choice on Aug. 12, 2014, to use meth and get behind the wheel of a car.

“Mr. Vinolo will never walk again, all of the others who were injured in this case, their lives will never be the same. Because she chose to take methamphetamine and get behind the wheel of a car… “ Said Deputy District Attorney Jessica Soto.

About 6:30 p.m. that day, Owens’ car slammed into a group of 25 cyclists. Ten cyclists were injured, including Vinolo, who is now in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the chest down.

After the accident, a couple of cyclists pulled Owens from her car and she was exhibiting signs of being under the influence of a controlled substance, including acting erratically and being uncooperative, Coto said.

Coto said Owens suspected her boyfriend of cheating on her with a younger woman. The day of the crash, the defendant told police she saw her boyfriend with the woman on the other side of Fiesta Island and was driving to cut him off, according to Coto.

The defendant admitted using meth earlier in the day, saying it was for back pain, according to the prosecutor.

Once at the hospital, Owens was sedated and a nurse found a bindle of meth in her vagina when she tried to insert a catheter, Coto said.

Defense attorney Brian Schmidt told the jury that Owens was not impaired at the time of the crash. The defendant did have meth in her system at the time, but the level was not particularly high, he said, calling it more in the “therapeutic” range.

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