Omar Anthony Gutierrez, 24, had been free on bond, but was handcuffed and led to jail at the end of an emotional sentencing in a packed courtroom.
His girlfriend, Jamillah Amirah Jones, 23, also was led away to jail to start her 180-day jail term after she pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact, a misdemeanor offense.
Gutierrez was driving Jones’ car on Aug. 5, 2016, when he severely injured J’Ron Erby, 23, who was in a coma for 27 days. He had to re-learn how to walk and talk again, his parents said in court.
Remarkably, Erby told San Diego Superior Court Judge Timothy Walsh how he had recovered enough to leave a rehab clinic and has recently been medically cleared to seek employment.
“The car came out of nowhere. I was run over like a bowling pin,” said Erby, who was with his roommate and a friend when they were all struck on Garnet Avenue near Cass Street about 1 a.m.
Erby at the time was a then-San Diego Chargers intern who previously played college football. His father, Lee Erby, said his son “was on the doorstop of playing the NFL,” but now cannot get employment and has some memory loss.
“I’ll never put on a football helmet,” said Erby, who added that he cannot go swimming due to his skull fractures. “My life has been forever changed” he said, and added he had to move back in with his parents.
However, J’Ron Erby told the courtroom of his remarkable struggle to learn to walk and talk again. He read his statement in court, saying “my brain works a lot different that it did in 2015.”
His statement so impressed the judge that Walsh said this: “I’ve seen a lot of victims. I’ve never seen one that I’m more confidant who will get over what happened to him — and I know it’s horrific — than you. You’re an inspiring guy, my friend.”
“I appreciate that,” said Erby.
“You’re a special, special person. You have a bright future somewhere,” said Walsh. “You have a future, if nothing else, than speaking about this.”
Gutierrez apologized in court to the victims. The mothers of the two other men struck, Kendrick Hester and Martin Thomas, said they accepted his apology.
His attorney, Michael Begovich, said Gutierrez got into a fight with the three victims on the street earlier that night and was not thinking clearly because he hit his head on the sidewalk.
Begovich said Gutierrez has no history or traits for violence.
Gutierrez pleaded guilty to attempted murder of Erby and assault with a deadly weapon upon Hester. Three other counts of attempted murder were dismissed.
Gutierrez will have to serve 85 percent of his 15-year term before he can be paroled. He received jail credits of serving 29 days.
Deputy District Attorney David McNees said Gutierrez waited and drove around other cars in order to intentionally hit the victims. He said they could have all been killed and Gutierrez could have faced three murder counts.
Jones was in the car with Gutierrez driving. They took the damaged car to an auto body shop and paid cash to replace the windshield, said the prosecutor.
“Sometimes otherwise good people do horrific things and this is one of those times,” said Walsh. “People make decisions in moments that alter lives forever.”
A restitution hearing was set for June 20 for both Gutierrez and Jones to see if they will have to pay for any of the $1.2 million in medical expenses for Erby. Gutierrez was fined $10,364.
Jones was sentenced to five years probation after her boyfriend was sentenced. Walsh ordered her to perform 10 days of public service works. She also apologized to the victims.