Former university student Ivanna Villanueva sobbed Friday as she accepted a three-year prison sentence for a drunken driving crash that killed a grandmother on her way home from work.
The tears kept flowing when relatives of the victim, Eyder Ayala, took to the podium in a Miami-Dade courtroom.
One by one, they described their relationship with the matriarch of the family.
An “extraordinary woman,” her husband, Jose Ayala, remembered.
She was the glue that kept the large family together. Even at 68, she continued working nights as a McDonald’s manager, up until that October 2011 night when Villanueva rear-ended her car, killing her.
“I never got a chance to thank her for loving me the way she did,” said son Axel Ayala, 34, who had gotten married just a week before his mother’s death. “It pains me that I could not say thank you for all the sacrifices she made so that we could have a home.”
Granddaughter Bernadette “Nina” Sadeek, 23, a University of Miami law student, remembered her abuela’s longing to one day visit Israel.
“She was extremely religious and wanted to see where Jesus was born,” Sadeek told Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Thomas Rebull.
Just feet away, tears trickled down Villanueva’s cheeks as she sat at the defendant’s table. A graduate of Palmer Trinity High, a private school, Villanueva played lacrosse and soccer and lived in Coral Gables’ posh Cocoplum neighborhood.
At the time of the crash, Villanueva — the daughter of an entertainment executive — was a freshman at UM.
“This is a true tragedy for two wonderful families,” said her lawyer, David O. Markus.
On Oct. 2, 2011, Villanueva, then 19, was headed home after a night of partying at the swank LIV nightclub at Miami Beach’s famed Fontainebleau hotel.
She drove her 2011 Audi Q5 down South LeJeune Road at more than 80 mph, plowing into Ayala’s Ford Focus with such force that the trunk was pushed into the passenger compartment.
According to an arrest affidavit, Villanueva told Coral Gables police that Ayala’s car had stopped in front of her and that she was unable to stop quickly enough.
Investigators found that her blood alcohol level was .231. The legal limit in Florida is .08.
Detectives also found a fake driver’s license and suspected marijuana in a plastic bag on Villanueva.
She had faced up to 20 years in prison.
Under the deal, Villanueva pleaded guilty to DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide. She’ll serve three years in prison as a “youthful offender,” which means she’ll be in a facility with other young people convicted of crimes.
Villanueva also will serve 15 years of probation, complete more than 1,000 hours of community service and speak to young people about the dangers of drunken driving.
She’ll also have to make donations to Mothers Against Drunk Driving every year on the anniversary of Ayala’s death.
Villanueva will surrender in court on June 18 to begin her sentence.
Meanwhile, the Ayala family is also pursuing legal action against the LIV nightclub for serving alcohol to the underage girl.
“She came from a wealthy family, a privileged background,” Sadeek, Ayala’s granddaughter, told the court. “She could have called a cab or spent the night at the hotel.”