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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane judge ends emotional testimony by giving a drunk driver the maximum sentence for crash that killed a 16-year-old

Emotion poured out Thursday as the families of two boys, one dead and the other who may never be the same, expressed their anguish to the 29-year-old man who was drunk when he crashed into them while showing a woman what his car could do.

Mt. Spokane High School sophomores Bailey Roach and Taigen Balbi, both 16, had been best friends since they were toddlers learning how to ride bikes. They were driving southbound on U.S. 395 just south of the Wandermere Shopping Center on June 18 when a northbound car came out of nowhere at 120 mph and smashed into them.

Hope Paul explained in court how she was one of many bystanders who stopped that night to try to help the victims of the crash caused by 29-year-old Ramiro Sanchez, who admitted drinking at a party and then at a bar before speeding north.

“I have to live with these horrible images … holding this child in my arms, lifting up his limp body,” Paul said through tears, “and quickly realizing this young man was going to die and I could not save him.”

Taigen’s father, Rick Balbi, described how family members raced in horror to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center with the grim knowledge that only one of the boys had been airlifted alive.

Both families sat in the hospital waiting room only to have a chaplain read the wrong name, Taigen, before quickly correcting himself to say that Bailey had died.

When Balbi finally got to see his son, the image horrified him.

“Our baby boy was laying there with a deformed head,” Balbi said. After surviving emergency brain surgery, Taigen Balbi remained in a coma for 18 days. When he finally awoke, he couldn’t speak.

Rick Balbi then spoke directly to Sanchez and explained how Taigen underwent weeks of speech and physical therapy. Taigen continues to suffer from cognitive issues.

“I hope the feeling I have about taking your life will subside,” Balbi told Sanchez. “I hope prison is a fraction of the hell you created for our two families and the community.”

Superior Court Judge Michael Price said he read dozens of letters and acknowledged the heart-wrenching testimony from families on Thursday. He told all three families that he could do nothing to ease their pain.

Price then struggled to tell his own story about how his mother was killed in an airplane crash 37 years ago caused by a pilot who was unfamiliar with the aircraft.

“No sentence that I’m going to impose is going to fix this,” he said. “Thirty seven years later, that pain is still there. Your pain is going to be there forever. It just gets a bit easier to deal with” over time.

Defense attorney Bevan Maxey and Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Katherine McNulty had agreed on a plea deal that would have sent Sanchez, a father himself with no prior felony convictions, to eight years in prison.

But Price took the rare step of going against the agreement and instead sentenced Sanchez to the maximum 125 months, or about 10 ½ years, under the state’s sentencing guidelines for vehicular homicide.

For his part, Sanchez tried his best to take full responsibility for driving drunk and showing a female passenger how fast his Dodge Magnum could go before it crashed into the Eagle Talon carrying the best friends.

“There is no excuse for the damage I caused. I don’t blame anyone other than myself,” Sanchez said.

He said he also has failed his own family because he will not be there to see his three children grow up or to provide a living for his wife.

“I cannot begin to tell you how ashamed I am of myself. There is no way to fill the emptiness,” he said. “I feel your pain. I will carry this guilt and shame as long as I live.”

But Bailey’s mother, Kaye Topp, told Sanchez that he can’t imagine how the crash broke so many lives, including that of Bailey’s twin sister, Kinunah.

“Until you lose a child of your own, you don’t know how raw and deep the pain is,” she said. “No mother should have to convince her daughter … to continue to keep living.”

Topp said she sometimes crawls up in Bailey’s blankets “to have the smell of him.

“I will forever have a huge hole in my heart,” she said as she wept. “I will never forgive you for killing my son.”