RENO -- A retired California firefighter who admitted that he was drunk and under the influence of marijuana when he caused a crash that killed five members of a Utah family was sentenced Friday to up to 80 years in prison.
Stephen Scharosch, 52, will serve a minimum of 26 years before he's eligible for parole.
"He's not a young man and he's not in good health. If that's not a life sentence, it's very, very close," Deputy District Attorney Dan Greco said.
Scharosch admitted in May that he was drunk and had been smoking marijuana before the May 13 crash on Interstate 80 east of Reno that claimed the lives of five people, four of them children.
He entered additional guilty pleas Friday to charges of felony driving under the influence causing substantial bodily harm.
The family was returning to West Jordan, Utah, from a 50th wedding anniversary celebration in San Jose, Calif., when Scharosch, driving the wrong way on eastbound lanes, slammed his red 1989 Ford Mustang head-on into their minivan.
Fernando Meza-Arriaga, driving the van, received minor injuries. His daughter Alejandra, 7, and two sons, Tito, 3, and Marco, 9 months, died at the scene, as did his sister, Gloria Meza-Arriaga, 38.
His sister's 4-year-old daughter, Gloria Destiny Vasquez, died a few hours later at Washoe Medical Center in Reno.
His wife, Maria Avelar-Mojarro, 29, and 2-year-old niece, Liliana Vasquez, were injured critically.
"I lost everything," Fernando Meza-Arriaga testified on Friday.
"After May 13 I just lost like half my life. Since then, nothing is good to me," he said during testimony that was interrupted several times while he composed himself.
"Every second of my life is just thinking about what happened May 13," he said.
Maria Avelar-Mojarro was also in the courtroom. Though she did not testify, a letter from the woman was read in which she asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence for the deaths of her children.
"Without them, everything is sad, without color, very cold. ... and I will never be able to see them again and that's not right. I just count the days until God allows us to reunite."
Washoe District Court Judge James Hardesty sentenced Scharosch to the maximum of 20 years on all seven counts, with four to be served consecutively and three concurrently.
He also was fined $2,000 on each count and ordered to pay at least $310,909 to cover the survivors' medical bills.
Scharosch's wife, Lynn, appealed for a more lenient sentence, saying her husband was a man who made a mistake.
She also said that after a second DUI arrest seven years ago, he adamantly refused to drive after drinking. However, she said he had an alcohol-triggered blackout last January while the two of them were visiting Reno for their anniversary.
In a brief statement, Scharosch apologized.
"I'm not a monster. I'm responsible for a terrible tragedy," he said. "I would gladly trade places with them."
Hardesty said that while Scharosch had a productive life as a firefighter and emergency medical technician and more recently working in an auto parts store in Grass Valley, Calif., "This court cannot ignore the enormity of this crime and the devastation of its victims.
"There are no words that the court could state that would in any way mitigate the pain and suffering that this event has caused," he said.