Erick Betancourt faced at least 27 years in prison for killing three people, including his own teen sister and an up-and-coming electronic music DJ, in a fiery car wreck on Krome Avenue in West Miami-Dade in 2014.
But a Miami-Dade judge on Monday decided that prison wasn’t the right punishment.
Instead, the 24-year-old Betancourt was sentenced to one night in jail on the anniversary of the crash — every year for the next decade.
He’ll also have to complete an array of community service, including volunteering at Ryder Trauma Center, cleaning up the memorial site to the victims, speaking six times a year to drivers’ education classes and working with students every month while he’s on probation for 10 years.
The sentence did not sit well with families of friends Gabriel Hernandez and Anthony “DJ SonicC” Rodriguez, who were killed when Betancourt veered into the wrong lane and crashed into their car. Both cars erupted into flames.
“I’m still speechless,” said Rita Rodriguez, Anthony’s mother. “In my opinion, there is something wrong with the system. There should be some kind of consequences. Not 10 days in jail, one per year. That’s ridiculous.”
The sentence handed down by Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Alan Fine, however, drew praise from Betancourt’s family. Although Betancourt faced 27 years at the low end of state sentencing guidelines, his legal team persuaded the judge that Betancourt had otherwise been a model citizen, was remorseful and had to live with the guilt of killing the two young men and his own teenage sister.
Without a plea deal, Betancourt accepted guilt to three counts of vehicular manslaughter.
“The judge fashioned an incredibly reasoned, creative and amazing sentence,” said his lawyer, Jonathan Schwartz.
The sentencing came just weeks after news emerged that a truck driver would not face any criminal charges in the deaths of four Spanish tourists killed in a wreck in Islamorada in the Florida Keys.
Rodriguez, 22, was a considered an EDM prodigy who broke out in 2009 with the hit “Stickin’” when he was 17. His music made it onto the video game Grand Theft Auto and MTV’s The Real World. After his death, his mother led a campaign to widen Krome Avenue, a particularly deadly stretch of two-lane road near the Everglades. The construction project is still underway.
The crash unfolded just before 2 a.m. on the morning of Jan. 14, 2014, on Krome Avenue near Southwest 144th Street.
Rodriguez and Hernandez, were heading north in a 2004 Chevrolet Cavalier, on their way back to Kendall from a bonfire. Their car collided headfirst with a 2004 Dodge Durango, which investigators said was driving the wrong way — south in the northbound lanes.
The crash broke both of Betancourt’s arms and killed his sister, Gisele Betancourt, a student at South Dade Senior High who had just celebrated her 15th birthday with a traditional quince party.
Erick Betancourt, 19, his sister and two others were headed home after attending a wedding.
The crash was no slam dunk for Miami-Dade prosecutors, who would have had to prove Betancourt was driving in a “reckless” manner that morning.
State troopers did not find any evidence that Betancourt was drinking or impaired at the time of the crash, or even texting at the time. He was driving at 73 miles per hour, nearly 30 over the speed limit, but exactly why he veered into traffic was unknown. The defense claimed the two surviving victims in Betancourt’s car would have testified that Betancourt was trying to avoid hitting the other car.