Photo by bloomsberries / via Flickr

Ryan Renz was convicted last year of second-degree murder and gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated for the Jan. 25, 2017, crash that killed his friends, 23-year-old Johnny Ray Meyer Jr. and 26-year-old Dillon Cody Wiltfong.

Prosecutors said Renz — who was on probation and driving on a suspended license due to a prior misdemeanor DUI conviction — was intoxicated when he crashed Wiltfong’s Volkswagen Jetta into a tree on Buckman Springs Road, near Lake Morena Drive.

One of the victims was thrown from the car and the other was trapped inside. Renz suffered minor injuries.

San Diego County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Fraser could have sentenced Renz to as much as 30 years to life behind bars. But unlike many other defendants, Renz appeared genuinely remorseful for what happened, the judge said.

Renz, who addressed the court prior to being sentenced, said he missed the victims “terribly” and that the crash left “a huge hole in my life and my heart.”

The defendant said he previously blamed alcohol for his life’s problems, but now understands “a lot of it was me. I made those choices.”

Renz told the judge, “I don’t know how long it will take, but I will change myself.”

Dillon Wiltfong’s sister was among those who spoke on behalf of the victims.

Amanda Wiltfong said she first met Renz years back, while he was hitchhiking on Buckman Springs Road, not far from where her brother was killed. She said she gave Renz a ride and on that occasion, they discussed the dangers of walking and driving on that road, where many similar drunken driving crashes had occurred.

The loss of her brother “is nothing short of devastating,” she said, adding that he “survived two tours in the Army, but he couldn’t survive Ryan’s friendship.”

Karen McIntyre spoke on behalf of Meyer’s family and read a letter from the victim’s mother.

“The Christian in me prays and worries for your soul. The mother in me wants damnation,” the letter read.

Deputy District Attorney Laura Evans said Renz and the victims drank throughout the afternoon before he got behind the wheel and drove down Buckman Springs Road, then crashed the Jetta into an oak tree. The passenger side of the sedan — where both Meyer and Wiltfong were sitting — took the brunt of the crash, according to the prosecutor.

Evans said the high speed of the Jetta caught the attention of Border Patrol officers stationed near the scene, some of whom pursued the sedan, but were unable to stop it before the crash. Officers arrived to find the Jetta overturned and on fire, according to the prosecutor, who said mechanical issues were ruled out as a potential cause of the crash by California Highway Patrol investigators.

–City News Service