MADERA COUNTY – Family and friends of Gary and Laura Smalz were both frustrated and angry today when the sentencing of the man who took the life of the Ahwahnee couple back in 2012 was postponed once again.
Gary Ragsdale, 43, of Madera, was arrested and charged with gross vehicular manslaughter and felony DUI on May 19, 2012, when he turned his pickup directly into the path of the Smalz’s motorcycle, killing them both.
Ragsdale bailed out of jail the next day and has been free on bond awaiting trial.
On Feb. 19, 2014, after nearly two years of court proceedings, Ragsdale pleaded “no contest” to one count of gross vehicular manslaughter and one Special Allegation of personally inflicting great bodily injury in the commission of a felony. He was scheduled to be sentenced on Friday, Mar. 28, but that hearing was rescheduled for Monday, Apr. 28.
Then at today’s hearing, Ragsdale’s attorney Roger Nuttall told Judge Mitchell Rigby that he had found a case that might have a bearing on his client’s plea, and allow the defense to have the Special Allegation charge dismissed. That charge carries a penalty of three years.
In order to allow him time to review the case, the judge continued the sentencing hearing to Monday, May 5.
Family and friends of the Smalz family were visibly upset over the fact that they will have to return to court yet again, having done so well over a dozen times as the case has dragged on with no resolution.
The judge, in an effort to accommodate those who would not be able to return next Monday, encouraged anyone who wished to address the court, from either the defendant’s or the victims’ families, to do so.
In a prepared statement read to the court, Gary Smalz’s sister Andria Sigler-Smalz expressed the emotional impact caused not only by the loss of her brother, but by the fact that the defendant would be entering a plea of “no contest.”
“When I first heard this news it almost knocked the wind out of me,” she told the court. “‘No contest’ sounds like, ‘Yes this happened, however I bear no responsibility for it;’ as if the occurrence was caused by an act of nature rather than his choice to drink and drive. He has exercised his every right and utilized the court system well to drag this on for almost two years. My brother should have been able to exercise his right to arrive home that day without a drunk driver killing him and his wife.”
Rebekah Mason also addressed the court, saying “Gary and Laura Smalz treated me like I was their daughter; an extension of their family. They are both dead now due to a drunk driver who will not even admit to his crime.”
The courtroom was filled today, not only by those who loved Gary and Laura Smalz, but by friends, family and supporters of Gary Ragsdale as well. Many were in tears as they waited for the case to be heard. They have also submitted some of the nearly 60 letters sent to the court and will return next Monday to urge the judge not to let this one terrible mistake define a man’s life.
Deputy District Attorney Ben Levy said he has reviewed the case cited by the defense and doesn’t believe it will apply to the Ragsdale case, noting that the facts of the case are not the same and he doesn’t believe the Orange County court’s decision will be binding on this court.