Two parents embraced outside a Douglas County courtroom Thursday afternoon: one, a mother whose son was just sentenced to jail.
The other, a father who will never see his daughter again.
Their conversation was private, but the moment even caused court employees to get choked up.
Minutes earlier, a Douglas County District Court judge had sentenced 22-year-old Joel Hernandez to six months in jail for drinking and driving and killing a 20-year-old Lawrence woman in October. The six-month sentence is the maximum allowed by law for a first-time misdemeanor DWI offense.
Hernandez made a tearful apology to the family of Rachel Leek during the sentencing hearing Thursday.
“I’m really sorry for what happened to Miss Leek,” Hernandez said. “I go through what happened every day. It should have never happened, but I can’t change that.”
Hernandez struck and killed Leek as she was riding her bicycle near 10th and Tennessee streets on Oct. 16. He then left the scene.
Hernandez, a former Haskell Indian Nations University student and a Lawrence High graduate, pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated and leaving the scene of an accident involving a death, after reaching a deal with prosecutors in April.
Hernandez will be on probation for one year after his release from jail.
Judge Michael Malone also ordered Hernandez to complete 200 hours of community service and to pay a $500 fine.
Malone said he hoped the jail time would serve as a deterrent to Hernandez and anyone else considering getting behind the wheel after drinking.
“You’re going to live with her death for the rest of your life,” Malone told Hernandez.
Leek’s father, sister and other relatives were in the courtroom, but did not address the judge.
Assistant District Attorney James McCabria said Leek’s father summed up the family’s feelings in a one-sentence statement he wrote on a form sent out by the court.
“We cannot express the loss of our daughter in words,” James Leek wrote.
Hernandez’s attorney, Al Lopes, said his client felt awful about leaving the scene. It’s unknown whether the outcome would have been different had Leek received medical help sooner.
“It’s eating at him,” Lopes said. “He’s more remorseful that he left the scene of an accident and let her die on the streets of Lawrence, Kansas.”
Lopes said from this point forward, Hernandez will be living a life for two people.
“He’s living his life, and a life for Rachel,” Lopes said. “He has an obligation to sit down and talk about how a bad thing can happen to a good person.”