A woman who killed a motorcyclist by driving under the influence and rear-ending him as he was parked on the side of a Poway road was sentenced Tuesday to four years in state prison.
Astha Rajyaguru, 23, pleaded guilty to gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and other charges for the March 25, 2022, death of 59-year-old Steven Lee McHenry.
McHenry was struck at about 10:30 p.m. while on the side of Midland Road, near Somerset Road. He died at the scene.
Prosecutors said Rajyaguru was speeding, had a 0.17% blood-alcohol level a few hours after the crash and was also under the influence of cocaine at the time.
Rajyaguru’s defense attorney, Kerry Armstrong, asked for a term of probation, with a suspended prison sentence that would take effect if she violated probation.
He argued Rajyaguru, who has been on house arrest for much of the time since her arrest, has gone to rehab, attended more than 150 AA meetings since the crash occurred, and has shown substantial contrition.
In a statement to the court, Rajyaguru said that at around the time of the fatal crash, she had plans to go to medical school.
“I have no words to describe the gut-wrenching feeling knowing that I’m responsible for a life lost when all I wanted to do was save lives,” she said. “While I can’t undo what happened, I will not forgive myself for the rest of my life.”
At the sentencing hearing, relatives of McHenry said that on the night of his death, he had been volunteering at the VFW of Poway, then left to meet with a co-worker somewhere else. They suspect he got lost along the way and was checking his phone for directions when he was struck.
McHenry’s loved ones said at the hearing that they recognized Rajyaguru was remorseful, but requested she serve time in prison.
McHenry’s widow, Eleanor McHenry, said they had been married for nearly 40 years and had just entered “a new chapter of our lives” after many years of caring for their children and Eleanor’s sister, who had special needs and passed away last year.
“We were looking forward to walks on the beach and just starting some of that quality time that we had not been able to start,” she said.
McHenry’s son, Jordan McHenry, told Rajyaguru, “My hope and prayer for you is that although the guilt of this is heavy, that it would not consume you and you would find it within yourself, the strength within yourself, to move forward well, so that this is not for nothing.”
McHenry asked San Diego Superior Court Judge Rachel Cano to impose prison rather than probation “because of the significant loss that we have received from this and for the many, many, many years that we will spend without someone who would have otherwise been here.”
Cano ruled that probation was not appropriate given the dual usage of alcohol and drugs, among other factors. Given Rajyaguru’s age and lack of a prior criminal record, the judge imposed the lowest possible prison term for gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, which carries a maximum possible term of 10 years.
City News Service contributed to this article.