Camp Humphreys soldier found guilty after wife’s moped death
CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — A soldier whose admitted negligence with a moped led to the death of his wife was sentenced Thursday to seven months in prison and a bad-conduct discharge during a grief-fraught court-martial at Camp Humphreys.
Pfc. Jaime D. Gonzalez, 23, also was sentenced to reduction to pay grade E-1 and forfeiture of all pay and allowances. He’s assigned to Company A, 304th Signal Battalion, at Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek.
The case stemmed from a June 2006 moped accident near Camp Humphreys in which Gonzalez allowed his wife, Elizabeth, to ride as a passenger even though the moped was meant for only one rider. When the moped overturned, she sustained head injuries from which she later died.
“When we got into that accident that night, my whole world just stopped,” a tearful Gonzalez told the judge during an unsworn pre-sentencing statement. “Every goal, every dream I ever had, revolved around my wife.”
Throughout Thursday morning’s proceedings, Gonzalez wept continually and his voice broke often.
Prosecutors initially charged Gonzalez with manslaughter, violating government regulations and making a false official statement — a charge that was later dismissed.
But under a pretrial agreement, Gonzalez pleaded guilty to negligent homicide and three counts of violating government regulations: driving an unregistered moped, allowing a second person to ride on it, and driving it without a license.
Army Col. Gregory Gross, chief judge for the 6th Judicial Circuit, imposed the sentence after deliberating about an hour.
The night of June 11, the couple had been drinking at several clubs near Camp Humphreys and decided to go with other soldiers to an off-post residence of a soldier’s acquaintance. Gonzalez had had a few drinks and his wife was heavily intoxicated, the prosecution said.
The soldiers got into a taxi headed for the residence and the couple followed it on the squat red moped Gonzalez had bought the day before.
Gonzalez was wearing a helmet; his wife was not.
When the moped overturned, Gonzalez suffered scrapes and bruises. His wife’s head struck the pavement, and she died from head injuries July 26, after weeks of hospitalization.
“I will regret that every day of my life,” Gonzalez told Gross. “I wake up thinking it was just a bad dream … I have to live with this for the rest of my life.”
He told Gross that he first saw the woman who would become his wife in a church in Florida and was so taken with her he later went through the day’s visitor’s cards to learn who she was. He called her and they soon grew close, “talking, staying up late, walks along the beach in Florida,” he said.
Gonzalez asked Gross to spare him a jail sentence and allow him to go home to his family.
Emotions in the courtroom ran high again during testimony from the wife’s father, Edward Rodriguez of Florida.
“I didn’t know how to deal with it … I felt helpless,” he testified, his voice quavering.
But though he at first “tried to blame” Gonzalez, he has forgiven him, he said, in part for the way he stood by his wife during her ongoing struggle with lupus.
“He honored her and loved her,” Rodriguez said. “Whenever she was sick, whenever she went to the hospital, he was by her side. … He never left. For that I honor him.”
Prosecutor Capt. Joon K. Hong, who co-chaired with Capt. Justin A. Evison, told Gross the case is not about how much Gonzalez has suffered from the death of his wife; it is a matter of holding a him accountable for negligence and flouting of regulations.
But the defense team of Capt. Patrick Davis and Capt. Jack H. Ko asked Gross to impose no jail term or discharge.
“If there was ever a case for mercy, this is that case,” Davis told Gross.
After sentencing, Gonzalez was taken to the Camp Humphreys jail.