Driver in 2019 deadly West Lubbock wreck sentenced to 10 years in prison

The Lubbock County Courthouse.
The Lubbock County Courthouse.

Rhonda Dearmond described her daughter, Gracie, as fearless, beautiful and strong.

She was the first to reach out and befriend a stranger. Someone who stood up for people.

"She was strong in her faith. She loved her family, friends and people she didn't know at all," Rhonda said. "She often sought after those that were alone or looked sad or in need. She gave her all to everyone."

She recounted her helplessness the night she received the phone call from the hospital, telling her that her daughter was hurt in a car crash and the agony from after another phone call as she was making the 9-hour drive to Lubbock, when doctors told her that her daughter's brain would no longer function.

"I had to say, 'Do not resuscitate,'" she said. "Those words literally had to come out of my mouth about my beautiful, sweet daughter who was sunshine and good down to her core."

Her heart shattered as she received one last phone call from her daughter father that she was dead.

"I screamed and screamed to from the top of my lungs," she said. "It wasn't supposed to be this way. She wasn't supposed to go. I screamed that I didn't meat it, that I wanted her to fight. But it was too late. She was gone."

Rhonda Dearmond shared her painful memories as she sat before 25-year-old Anthony Puente last week after he admitted to causing the Feb. 24, 2019 drunken wreck that killed her daughter, 19-year-old Sarah Grace Dearmond.

Dearmond who held up collage of her daughter's pictures as she gave her victim impact statement was supported at the hearing by her daughter's sorority sisters who sat in the courtroom gallery.

Puente appeared in court with his attorney, Dan Hurley, for a Sept. 14 hearing during which he pleaded guilty to a count of intoxication manslaughter, a second-degree felony that carries a punishment of two to 20 years in prison.

Hurley relayed his client's remorse and sorrow to Dearmond's family.

In exchange for his plea he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

As part of his plea, a second count of intoxication assault was dismissed.

Anthony Puente
Anthony Puente

His charge stems from a Lubbock police investigation that began when officers responded to a two-vehicle crash about 8:50 p.m. near the intersection of 13th Street and Slide Road.

A responding officer found the two vehicles - a Hyundai Tucson and a Chevrolet Silverado - severely damaged. Puente sat on a curb while EMS treated McAden and Dearmond, the report states.

Investigators believe Puente was driving the pickup truck north on Slide Road and struck the westbound SUV driven at the intersection. Dearmond, who was the front passenger in the SUV, was taken to a hospital where she died, according to a police news release.

At the scene of the crash, an officer spoke to Puente, who said he was coming from a friend’s house where he had been drinking, the police report states.

The officer noted he could smell alcohol on Puente’s breath and his eyes were bloodshot and glassy, the report states.

Puente, who the officer said had difficulty walking told the officer he drank two quarts of Hurricane malt liquor about three to four hours prior to the crash.

Puente reportedly told the officer, “I'm drunk,” the report states.

The officer reportedly saw in Puente’s truck a bottle of Hurricane malt liquor in the driver's side floorboard, another bottle of malt liquor in the open center console of the vehicle and an empty malt liquor bottle in the bed of the truck, the report states.

The officer noted that Puente had difficulty walking and Puente reportedly told the officer he suffered no head injuries, but said his knees hurt from the crash.

Results from a field sobriety test provided clues to the officer that indicated Puente’s level of intoxication and that he caused the fatal crash, the report states.

Puente also agreed to provide a specimen of his blood and was taken to University Medical Center for a blood draw.

He was arrested and booked into the Lubbock County Detention Center and was released on bond in April 2019.

Dearmond's father, Kenneth, told Puente in his victim impact statement that his daughter's death has left an indescribable void in his family.

He said his daughter was shining star defined by her acts of kindness.

"The agonizing heartfelt pain and sleepless nights will last forever," he said. "We all have a choice, don't drink and drive. Gracie always wanted to have kids and have a big family. She was robbed of that chance by a drunk driver."

Rhonda Dearmond told Puente that his actions robbed her the chance of seeing her daughter live out her dreams.

"She had, many that, without a doubt, she would have made come true," she said.

In honor of her daughter's compassion and kindness, Dearmond established Get Home By Grace, a non-profit group that provides free rides for people impaired by alcohol or drugs to make sure they get home safe and to spare other parents from the heartbreak she endured.

"I will always miss my precious daughter," she said.

She asked Puente to use his life after prison to advocate against drunk and drugged driving,

"My loss is permanent and cannot be changed, your family's loss will be temporary, and you can make a change," she said. "... I pray that you seek places to tell you story and hope that it changes even just one person's mind about driving while intoxicated and impaired. I pray that you become like my daughter who was thoughtful, compassionate, giving and always looking to help someone to make something better.

She encouraged him with her daughter's words, "Go be the change of something good."

This article originally appeared on Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: Man sentenced in 2019 deadly West Lubbock wreck