Emotions run high at sentencing

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SOUTH LAKE TAHOE -- Friends and family of a former Lake Tahoe woman wanted punishment and closure for her accidental death.

After the sentencing of the man who hit Guia Orbeta in September 2000, the family said they are still searching for peace.

David Keith Burnam was sentenced to six months in El Dorado County jail and five years probation for the hit-and-run death of Orbeta, 66. El Dorado County Superior Court Judge Jerald Lasarow wrestled with the decision he called "one of the hardest cases I've had to deal with as a judge."

Burnam was accused of striking Orbeta with his 1998 white Jeep Cherokee on the night of Sept. 10, 2000, and not stopping after the incident. Orbeta was left unconscious with a head injury on a sidewalk just west of Highway 50. The mother of six children later died at Barton Memorial Hospital.

Burnam, a Stateline resident, was accused of the crime when he took his car to a Carson City body shop. Employees called police after remembering a newspaper article regarding a hit-and-run vehicle with front-end damage.

Prosecutor Anthony Sears and defense attorney Richard Specchio opted to forego a trial.

At the start of last week's two-hour sentencing, Lasarow allowed Orbeta's siblings and friends to speak to the court.

Gaudioso Orbeta, one of Guia's sons, said the most difficult and painful part of the death was identifying his mother's body at the morgue.

"I felt like my very own life ended," he told the court.

Marilyn Rodriguez, the fourth daughter of Guia, told a story of her 8-year-old son who stopped eating after his grandmother's death. Rodriguez is one of four nurses in the family who pursued the career in response to Guia's warm influence and guidance.

She said she became elated when her son finally decided to eat after he dreamed his grandmother instructed him to resume eating.

"I would like to let go of my mom," Rodriguez said in tears. "This time I'm letting go of my mom. I want this man who killed my mom to go to state prison because the only time I could forgive him is when he is 6 feet under the ground."

Burnam was dressed in a white shirt and tie with his blonde hair combed back and a goatee covering his mouth. He had no prior criminal history, is a father of two young children and worked three jobs.

Burnam said he was tired and groggy when he struck Guia, and claimed he did not remember the event. He said he shouldn't have been driving. He cried his apology to the family.

"I would just like to say how sorry I am," Burnam said. "If I could take back that weekend, I would. If I would have known I would have stopped, I swear. There's nothing this court could do to me that I haven't done to myself in the last 18 months, thinking about what happened.

"I ruined a lot of lives. I apologize."

Guia was described as a loving soul who enjoyed making loads of food for people and never uttered a derogatory word about anyone. She lived at Lake Tahoe from 1979 to 1987 before retiring to the Bay Area to be closer to her children.

Gaudioso Orbeta shared his family's anger over the sentencing.

"We are very unhappy with the decision," he said. "We feel he got away with murder. We feel like we've been victimized again."


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