Michael Jakscht, the trash truck driver who ran over eight motorcycles in Phoenix in March 2010, was sentenced to 26 years in prison this afternoon by an Arizona judge. Under Arizona’s Truth In Sentencing Law Jakscht will do about 230 months. His release date should be late in the year 2031 or early in 2032.
Judge Joseph C. Welty could have sentenced Jakscht to 157 years in the penitentiary. Prosecutor Thomas McDermott asked for 120 years. “He chose to get impaired by methamphetamine, and his choice affected the whole community,” McDermott said. “We have four people who died. Three of them burned to death. We saw pictures with the blankets and we know what was under them.”
The judge replied, “You are asking me to sentence someone to 120 years for reckless conduct. How do you justify that?”
The sentencing hearing took more than four hours to complete. Numerous survivors and other interested parties spoke and cried at the hearing.
Jakscht ran over a pack of eight motorcycles carrying nine people at a stop light at the intersection of 27th Avenue and Carefree Highway near Interstate 17 in the middle of a bright and sunny day. He was intoxicated on methamphetamine at the time and he never braked. He was tried twice. Jurors had to decide whether Jakscht simply never braked or whether a mechanical defect caused the collision. Jakscht claimed he pushed the brake pedal all the way to the floor but the brakes failed.
Jurors also had to decide whether Jakscht was actually intoxicated at the time of the accident or whether he simply had methamphetamine in his system. He was acquitted at his first trial because jurors were not convinced he was legally “under the influence.” His lawyers argued that he had not actually ingested meth but only diet pills. Jurors at his second trial concluded that the truck driver was voluntarily intoxicated and that he acted in “reckless disregard” of the consequences of that intoxication.
The collision with the motorcycles was Jakscht’s second accident in two weeks.
The victims were all members of a very informal riding club called Krusers. The club organized rides for people who wanted to make friends in the wind.
It was a horrific accident. The four riders who died were Clyde R. Nachand, Stephen Punch, Daniel L. Butler and Dayle Veronica Downs-Totonchi.
A fifth victim was Phoenix Fire Captain named Ernie Lizarraga. Lizarraga was left permanently disabled and he also wanted Jakscht to get 120 years. “I spent 24 years saving people and I will never be able to do that.” Lizarraga said. “He was the judge, jury and executioner for us that day.”
In the end Judge Welty was more merciful than Jakscht’s victims would have been.