Celebration that ended a life leads to prison for driver - Omaha.com
Published Thursday, June 20, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 4:26 pm
motor vehicle homicide
Celebration that ended a life leads to prison for driver

Sergio Valdivia-Marquez was on the cusp of life. He had just learned that his girlfriend was pregnant with his first child.

So in an act of “hubris,” as his attorney put it, Valdivia-Marquez downed a bottle of tequila.

His celebration over a life would soon end someone else's.

Michael Tran, 18, also was on the cusp of life. A graduate of Omaha Bryan High School, he had just started a job at Coco Key Water Resort and was known to his family and friends as a good-hearted and fun-loving young man.

Tran's life ended when he pulled out of work early Oct. 13 and headed through a green light at 72nd and Grover Streets.

Valdivia-Marquez — who had no driver's license and a dozen traffic infractions — blew through a red light and rammed Tran's Mitsubishi Eclipse. Tran died five days later at a hospital.

For his death, a judge on Tuesday sentenced Valdivia-Marquez to 12 to 16 years in prison for motor vehicle homicide. Valdivia-Marquez pleaded no contest to the charge in March.

The 22-year-old man, who came to the United States with his parents when he was 10, is expected to be deported to Mexico after serving six to eight years of his sentence.

That is little consequence compared to the devastation that the Tran family feels, said Valdivia-Marquez's attorney, Joseph Howard.

Valdivia-Marquez — who cried throughout the hearing — is well aware of the damage he wrought. While he was in jail, another inmate, a one-time classmate of Tran's, confronted him about causing Tran's death.

“Michael was my friend, somebody you could trust,” the young man told Valdivia-Marquez. “A good-hearted person.”

Valdivia-Marquez's eyes filled with tears.

“There's no words that will bring back the life I took away,” he told Douglas County District Judge Leigh Ann Retelsdorf. “I'm losing my family. God knows when I'm going to be able to see them again. All I need is forgiveness.”

Howard said Valdivia-Marquez has been humbled.

“Whatever hubris and pride and invincibility he had is gone,” Howard said. “He is a very decent man from a good family. He's not the kind of guy who ever intended for any of this to happen.”

Both Retelsdorf and Deputy County Attorney Matt Kuhse agreed that Tran's death wasn't intentional.

However, both suggested that it shouldn't have been difficult to predict that Valdivia-Marquez's behavior could turn deadly.

Valdivia-Marquez had a long list of traffic offenses — three speeding and stop-sign violations, several citations for not having a valid driver's license and at least six arrests for driving under suspension.

Add in alcohol, and his driving went from reckless to ruthless. Investigators say his blood-alcohol content was .21 percent, more than twice the legal limit of .08.

Motorists said he was running red lights as he zipped south on 72nd Street in his Honda Civic. And there were no skid marks to indicate that he had touched his brakes before he plowed into Tran.

“He hit a nice young man who was just leaving work and on his way home,” Kuhse said.

“I understand he didn't intend Michael's death. However, it was intentional acts when he made a decision to drink to excess, when he made a decision to get behind the wheel, when he made a decision to run that red light. Had it not been for several stupid decisions, he wouldn't find himself in this situation.”

Retelsdorf challenged Valdivia-Marquez to do something with his life.

“You asked for forgiveness,” she said. “I know you're directing that to the family of Mr. Tran. However, you are going to have to figure out how to forgive yourself, to make your life have some meaning.”

Contact the writer: Todd Cooper

todd.cooper@owh.com    |   402-444-1275

Todd covers courts and legal issues for The World-Herald.

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