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Judge orders veteran to treatment before sentencing for fatal DWI crash

By MATTHEW REISEN | Albuquerque (N.M.) Journal | Published: April 13, 2019

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (Tribune News Service) — Instead of sending him straight to prison, a state District Court judge first ordered the drunken driver in a deadly 2017 wreck to a veterans post-traumatic stress disorder inpatient program after hearing harrowing tales of his experience as a soldier in Afghanistan.

Judge Cristina Jaramillo reset the sentencing of Steven Deskin, 31, to December upon his successful completion of the Veterans Affairs’ STAR program. Deskin pleaded guilty in January to homicide by vehicle and child abuse for the crash that took the life of Ramon Rosas, 34, on Dec. 29, 2017. He could be sentenced to up to 12 years in prison.

Deskin was driving while drunk, with his two young children in the car, when he rear-ended Rosas at more than 80 mph as Rosas sat at a red light. Veterans’ advocates testified during the sentencing hearing Wednesday that Deskin’s intoxication and risk-taking behavior stemmed from his time serving his country.

“It’s sad to think that this country has turned a blind eye to hundreds of thousands of men and women who served this country and who come back with unseen wounds that are not being dealt with,” Jaramillo said, noting her own father was in the Army.

Portraits of two people were painted during the hourlong hearing, one of a man who left his family in Mexico to find a better life in America and one of another man who went through a “perfect storm of trauma” in the Taliban-entrenched Kandahar province.

In a letter, Rosas’ mother said her son’s only crime was being undocumented and wanting to prosper in America to help support her.

“He was a young man, full of dreams, which I shared. But I could not help him due to my state of poverty. That is why, one fine day, I saw him leave and I never saw him alive again,” the letter read. “I still think I hear his voice … and even after a year, I keep waiting for his call.”

Then Veterans Defense Program deputy director Art Cody took the stand.

“I don’t come before you to play the vet card or minimize Mr. Deskin’s actions,” he said. “… His circumstances truly are exceptional.”

Cody said of the 500 veterans he has worked with, Deskin’s “extreme trauma” is one of the worst. As a 23-year-old infantryman, Deskin drove into a roadside bomb that severed a soldier’s legs, witnessed his commander blown to bits by a rocket-propelled grenade and dodged a daily barrage of mortars and gunfire.

He said veterans are ill-equipped for, and can be triggered in, a prison setting, which can “replicate the stress of combat.” For that reason, Cody asked Jaramillo to send Deskin to the STAR program before his sentence “to better prepare him for state prison.”

Before Jaramillo ordered Deskin to treatment and sentencing at a later date, Deskin addressed Rosas’ family.

“I can’t begin to imagine the pain that I have caused you. … It haunts me every day,” he said. “I am truly, truly, very sorry.”

©2019 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.)
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