Illegal immigrant who drove drunk, put Franklin woman in 10-year coma has sentence extended to 9.5 years

By Joe Green/South Jersey Times
on September 25, 2013 at 12:22 PM, updated September 25, 2013 at 5:54 PM

A Mexican court in January extended to nine and a half years the prison sentence for the drunk driver who put Franklin Township’s Christina Applegate into a coma for the past 10 years.

The Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office learned this week of the decision to increase the sentence for the 32-year-old Mexican national Juan Luis Bautista, the office announced.

Bautista was an illegal immigrant living in Bridgeton at the time of the incident.

Applegate was 21 and married when the crash occurred on Sept. 16, 2003. She was turning her Ford Mustang onto Swedesboro Road from Delsea Drive in Franklin Township when Bautista smashed into her.

Driving an SUV, he’d been speeding in the opposite direction on Delsea, police said. Applegate suffered severe head injuries. Two passengers in Bautista’s vehicle were also injured.

Bautista was charged with assault by auto and aggravated assault but did not show for a hearing on June 4, 2004, in Woodbury. Authorities failed to find him in South Jersey, and the search moved to Mexico.

There, he was arrested in December 2010 in the state of Puebla. He was sentenced July 4, 2011, to two and a half years in prison for causing grave bodily injury to Applegate and to four years for using a false driver’s license.

A judge also imposed a fine of 8,060 pesos.

In Mexico, a Mexican federal prosecutor appealed and asked for a tougher sentence, the Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office said, citing a statement by Special Agent Val Jiminez of the California Attorney General’s Office.

The California Department of Justice had helped Gloucester authorities translate documents into Spanish for the Mexican authorities. It was the California department that informed Gloucester of the increased sentence.

In imposing Bautista’s original sentence, the judge “considered that the perpetrator did not plan to cause the accident,” Jiminez told Gloucester County authorities.

But the Mexican prosecutor, in appealing that sentence, felt simply that “it’s not enough time.”

Mexico’s Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed.

Bautista’s new sentence, in addition to the nine and a half years, includes an order “to repair the damages caused to Christina Applegate,” although it wasn’t clear whether that includes or is limited to restitution.

“We appreciate the efforts of law enforcement, both in the U.S. and in Mexico, to prosecute this to the fullest extent permitted under the law,” Gloucester County Prosecutor Sean F. Dalton said.

“Our thanks to the Mexican prosecutors, whose persistence resulted in additional prison time, which this defendant deserves for his actions.”