50 year sentence issued in double vehicular homicide

A 23-year-old Marshalltown man was sentenced Monday to 50 years in prison for killing a local man and a 4-month-old infant in a car crash.

A tearful Armando Chavarria received the sentence from Judge James Ellefson in a standing room only courtroom.

He pleaded guilty in October to two counts of vehicular homicide and two counts of serious injury by vehicle.

Chavarria, whose blood alcohol content was .201, was behind the wheel of an SUV during a Nov. 1, 2012 crash. Chavarria was driving at a high speed and veered from the road at the intersection of 13th Avenue and East State Street in Marshalltown. The vehicle flipped on its side into Linn Creek just before 2 a.m., killing Dylan Quezada, an infant, and Chendo Quezada, 20.

The group had been trick-or-treating and drinking that night. Chavarria later admitted to drinking six to eight shots of tequila before the crash.

The infant, who was not strapped into a car seat, was ejected from the vehicle and later died from injuries. Chendo Quezada was also ejected from the vehicle; he drowned in Linn Creek.

Two others involved in the crash were Yara Hernandez-Nunez, 5, and Nancy Nunez, 17. Both sustained serious injuries.

Gabriela Nunez-Lasso, the mother of Dylan and Yara, was also in the crash but was uninjured.

Nunez-Lasso and Michael Chavarria, Armando Chavarria’s older brother, testified on Chavarria’s behalf.

Both said Chavarria acted as a father to Nunez-Lasso’s children, Dylan and Yara. They described the night as a tragic accident and said Chavarria deserved a chance at a future.

Nunez-Lasso said that while Dylan was not his biological child, Chavarria took care of him as his own.

“It was an accident,” she said. “He’s not a bad person. It was just a crazy night.”

Assistant Marshall County Attorney Paul Crawford said from the onset of the investigation Chavarria denied he was driving the vehicle.

Crawford likened Nunez-Lasso’s cooperation in the case to Tammy Wynette’s country song “Stand by Your Man.”

During the investigation Nunez-Lasso said she told police she was driving because she felt responsible for having her kids in the vehicle. Crawford said it was only recently Chavarria finally took responsibility for the crimes, and admitted he was driving the vehicle.

Nonetheless, Chavarria’s attorney, Merrill Swartz, asked Ellefson to consider a 25 year sentence.

Before the decision was issued, Chavarria read aloud a letter he wrote to the victims of the crash.

“Words cannot express the sorrow I feel … you will truly never know my grief,” he said. “The events of Nov. 1, 2012 are forever engraved in my mind.”

Chavarria said Chendo Quezada was his best friend. He said he keeps a photo of him by his bed so it’s the first thing he sees in the morning and the last thing before he closes his eyes at night.

Following a 10 minute recess, Ellefson gave his decision, one he classified as the most difficult he’s had to make since he became a district court judge in 2012.

Ellefson said key points in the decision were Chavarria’s initial evasion of responsibility, his prior OWI arrest and the conscious decision he made to drive under the influence of alcohol with a vehicle full of passengers.

At the time of the crash, Chavarria was on probation for a first-offense OWI.

Vehicular homicide is a Class B felony, punishable by up to 25 years in prison. Chavarria is ordered to serve two 25 year sentences consecutively. For the serious injury charges he will serve two five year sentences consecutive to each other and concurrently with the vehicular homicide sentence.