Damien Fornes and Aimee Ardila, teenagers on a date, picked up a stranger to give him a ride. It was Halloween night. The story ended in real-life terror.
After pulling into a dark street in Coral Gables, the man suddenly pulled out a laser-sighted pistol and ordered them out. Then, as they ran way, he began spraying them with bullets, hitting them both in the legs.
Two years to the day, the couple – still grappling with the physical and psychological effects of the attack – again faced their Halloween boogeyman, this time in court as a Miami-Dade judge sentenced gunman Luis Basalo to 45 years in prison.
“I’m really satisfied he’s getting what he deserved,” said Fornes, now 21, adding: “I don’t think I’ll be ever be able to go out on Halloween again.”
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Said prosecutor Stephen Mitchell: “These facts were absolutely horrific. The defendant shot both of them for absolutely no reason. It was just for sport.”
Tuesday’s sentencing was just the first prosecution of Basalo, who is also accused of robbing and shooting another man hours after the carjacking of the teens.
Investigators believe Basalo and another man went on a crime spree that Halloween night in 2015.
The night started when Basalo, then a few days shy of his 18th birthday, approached Fornes as he waited at the Shops at Sunset Place mall for his girlfriend to get off work. That night, Fornes has dressed as the Joker for Halloween.
Basalo and a group of friends said they were stranded and asked for a ride to Coconut Grove.
Feeling sorry for the group of teenagers, and despite his girlfriend’s trepidation, Fornes agreed. As the car approached LeJeune Road on U.S. 1, Basalo suddenly pulled out the .40-caliber pistol and ordered Fornes to pull over.
When the car reached the 400 block of Rosaro Avenue near Menendez Avenue, he ordered Fornes and Ardila from the car. But before they got far, Basalo inexplicably fired at the two.
Fornes was shot in the elbow and thigh. Ardila, then 17, was shot in the knee – she’s had two surgeries and is awaiting a third. She can barely bend her knee. Ardila had to spend the rest of her senior year of high school getting schooled at home.
“I couldn’t attend senior breakfast, prom, anything,” Ardila told Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Richard Hersch. She added: “I’m scared to even help anyone out because of what happened to me. I have to be aware of my surroundings.”
Because of their injuries, both teens have had tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills.
Unable to work for three months because of his injuries, Fornes couldn’t make car payments and the vehicle was repossessed. With his credit history ruined, Fornes told the judge he has been unable to get a loan to pay for nursing school.
Basalo went to trial in August and was convicted of attempted murder and other felonies. Prosecutors Mitchell and Chris Flanagan showed jurors photos and a Snapchat video of Basalo holding the gun; jurors also heard from the victims and one of Basalo’s friends who was also in the car.
Defense lawyers Andrew Rier and Jonathan Jordan argued Basalo came from a troubled family and deserved leniency. “He deserves a shot at rehabilitation,” Jordan said.
Judge Hersch nevertheless sentenced him to the 45 years, plus 25 years of probation.
“I cannot conceive of the mentality of someone who has successfully stolen a car at gunpoint, to get out of the car to shoot two people in the back,” Hersch said. “That’s something that’s completely foreign to me.”