CHICAGO (SUN TIMES MEDIA WIRE) - Eric Ochoa Sr. said the last time he talked to his 5-year-old namesake son, he asked him if he had his seat belt on.
The only other thing that Ochoa remembers from that night — before waking up to learn that both his son and his daughter, 10-month-old Julissa Ochoa, had died — was turning on the car radio.
On Tuesday, Joey Chavez, 41, who was under the influence of opiates and PCP when he slammed into the family’s Dodge Neon, was sentenced to 26 years in prison for the fatal DUI crash, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting.
At the time, Eric and Julissa were the only children of Ochoa and Bernice Cabrera.
Cabrera got pregnant shortly after the March 24, 2012, crash.
The couple’s now 3-year-old daughter’s middle name is Julissa, and she has in her wardrobe the Hello Kitty and the Bears sweaters her siblings were wearing before they took their last breaths in the Back of the Yards wreck, Cabrera told reporters.
In court, Cabrera, 26, said Eric loved dancing to music and used to help change Julissa’s diaper.
For a long time, Cabrera, who had been behind the wheel at the time, said she hated herself for taking the route she chose to run errands that Saturday.
“They say everything happens for a reason, but I just couldn’t accept that, in a blink of an eye, I lost my family,” she said.
Cabrera said she has now accepted the phrase “Everything happens for a reason,” but not by choice, for her sanity.
Chavez was speeding southbound on Western Boulevard in a friend’s Mercury Mountaineer when he ran a red light at 43rd Street, swerved into oncoming traffic and sideswiped another vehicle, prosecutors said.
He kept driving, reaching speeds of 80 mph, before running another red light at 45th and Western, then crashing into the rear of the Dodge Neon, causing the car to spin around several times and strike a pole, Assistant State’s Attorney Emily Stevens said.
Chavez could have stopped himself from “driving like a maniac” and crushing the children to death, Stevens said.
The prosecutor said Chavez, a seven-time convicted felon and reputed Latin King, completed courses in beekeeping and yoga while awaiting trial in Cook County Jail, but he failed to get help for his drug addiction.
Chavez laughed on the stand when he described getting high before the wreck during his bench trial earlier this year, Stevens said.
When Chavez was taken to the hospital, “He didn’t ask about the carnage, he wanted a sandwich,” the prosecutor added.
Assistant Public Defender Kathleen Moriarty said Chavez had grown up with an alcoholic father and has tried to change the impact of his troubled youth by being a good father to his four children and taking classes in jail.
“This is not a murder,” Moriarty told Judge Lawrence Flood, asking for leniency. “This was not an intentional act.”
Flood said Ochoa, 27, and Cabrera suffered a “severe” loss but also expressed sympathy for Chavez, who will have the memory of the crash haunt him for the rest of his life.
Ochoa and Cabrera, who wore shirts with a picture of their dead children, said they were satisfied with the sentence.
“Forever in our hearts,” their shirts read. “Our lil Angels.”