Driver in fatal intersection crash sentenced to 12 to 18 years in state prison

·3 min read

Jun. 1—LAWRENCE — A drunk driver who ignored a red light, blasted through a city intersection and slammed into a Honda, splitting the car in half and killing a young mother, apologized in an emotionally-wrought courtroom Wednesday.

"I feel so much remorse," said Pedro Nieves, adding he was "genuinely sorry for what I've done."

"I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me," he asked shortly before pleading guilty to a series of charges in superior court.

Nieves, 30, apologized to family members of Gabriela Hernandez, 24, a devoted wife and beloved mother of two young children, who was killed in the early morning crash on April 29, 2021 at South Union Street and Winthrop Avenue.

He was sentenced to 12 to 18 years in state prison followed by five years probation, after pleading guilty to manslaughter while operating under the influence of alcohol, operating under the influence of drugs causing serious injury, and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon causing serious bodily injury.

The Honda driver, Luci Dania Pena, who was critically injured in the crash and Medflighted to a Boston hospital, and Gabriela's husband, Darwin, were also in court. Both were visibly emotional during the hearing.

In victim impact statements, family members of Hernandez told Barrett what a wonderful wife, mother and friend she was. And how her young children still yearn for her in their lives.

"I spend all my time with the children and it's very painful for me to see how the children beg for their mother ... They are always waiting for the day she will return so she can give them hugs and kisses," said Belkis Disla, Gabriela's mother-in-law.

Elizbeth Hernandez, Gabriela's sister-in-law, recalled driving to the hospital that morning, praying and begging God for Gabriela to live.

She said she constantly relives the moment when Lawrence Police Sgt. Michael Simard told her "we believe the person who is deceased is Gabriela Hernandez."

Some 13 months after the crash, she said she and family members have seen all the evidence and are just numb.

"When someone intentionally drives through a red light at 100 mph, seems to me they know there's a very good chance they are going to kill someone," she said.

Nieves was driving "at least 100 mph" when he crashed into the Honda authorities said.

As conditions of his probation, Nieves must remain alcohol free and not drive a car.

Presiding Judge C. William Barrett said Nieves should never be allowed to drive again.

"If there is anything I can do to prevent that that's what I want to do ... I will do whatever I can to make sure this man doesn't drive again, ever," Barrett said.

Nieves' blood alcohol level was .17, twice the legal limit, at the time of the crash, Assistant District Attorney Mary Eileen Spano said in court Wednesday.

Lawrence firefighters that morning used two sets of Jaws of Life hydraulic tools to extract trapped people from both the Honda and the Acura Nieves had been driving.

On the offense of driving under the influence of drugs causing serious bodily injury, Nieves was sentenced to 8 to 10 years in state prison. That sentenced will run concurrently with the 12 to 18 year prison sentence on the manslaughter conviction.

The maximum penalty Nieves' faced was 20 years in prison on the manslaughter charge.

He's been held without bail since his initial arraignment in Lawrence District Court.

Disla told Barrett that this was not an accident.

Nieves chose to drink and drive.

"They drink and don't consider anyone else," she said. "This was done purposely."

Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.