Berset gets three years for Granite Bay hit-and-run

By: Nathan Donato-Weinstein |
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Nancy Parker wiped tears from her eyes and clasped her arms above her head Tuesday as a judge sentenced a Folsom woman to three years in prison for the hit-and-run that killed Parker’s daughter, 15-year-old Courtney. “Nobody wins, nobody really wins,” Nancy Parker said outside the courtroom afterward. “But I’m very satisfied.” Amid an overflow crowd of supporters on both sides, Judge Larry Gaddis handed down the midterm sentence for Anna Elvira Berset, who could have received anything from probation up to four years in state prison. Courtney, a popular Granite Bay High cheerleader, was walking with a friend along Auburn-Folsom Road the night of June 13, 2007, when she was struck by Berset’s car, causing fatal injuries. Berset, 52, returned to her home after hitting the girl, then called police the next day to report that she was involved in some type of collision, but claimed not to know exactly what occurred. A jury in January found her guilty of vehicular manslaughter and felony hit-and-run after a lengthy trial. Tuesday’s emotional hearing included statements to the judge from Courtney’s mom and sister, as well as the first public words about the case from Berset herself. “Pain goes away. This is torture,” Nancy Parker told the judge. She described how the family has struggled to heal after the death, particularly her son, Thomas, who received news of his sister’s death as he was celebrating his high school graduation. Tashika Parker, Courtney’s sister, said Berset has made the family relive “this painful night” for a year and a half. “Since the accident, my family cannot stop crying,” she said. BERSET SPEAKS Berset, dressed in a purple suit, sat by her attorney and showed little emotion during the statements. But she struggled to speak through tears as she read a letter addressed to the Parker family. “How can I say I’m sorry for causing you this great loss?” she said. “If only I could trade places with your daughter, I would do it. I would do it in a second.” Berset said she watched Courtney’s MySpace profile page “and cried and cried. My grief is unsayable.” She asked that family members “let some of the feeling you might have for me be dissolved.” But prosecutor Jeff Wilson said he was unmoved by Berset’s further comments that she was distracted by a cell phone call and some boys on the side of the road. He said there was no evidence Berset was on the phone and that her statement amounted to “we’re going to blame everybody else.” BIZARRE OVERTONES Prosecutors have said they believe Berset’s motive for leaving the scene of the crime stemmed from drinking earlier in the night. Though they couldn’t prove she drank alcohol, they believe she was trying to avoid stiffer drunken driving penalties by going home and avoiding a blood test. Berset would have been familiar with the consequences. Josh Sanguinetti, Berset’s son, was found guilty of hit-and-run vehicular manslaughter for the Dec. 10, 1999 death of 15-year-old Robert Wyatt of Loomis. There are eerie similarities. Both Sanguinetti and Berset were traveling from Auburn to Folsom on Auburn-Folsom Road. They both struck 15-year-olds. Sanguinetti fled the scene on foot after crashing head-on into Wyatt’s truck, killing him and seriously injuring his 17-year-old sister. That Berset would have been well aware of the pain a hit-and-run fatality can cause was not lost on prosecutors. “When she was driving away, she knew the pain she would cause people,” Wilson said. Judge Gaddis called the circumstances “highly unusual and disturbing,” but added “The circumstances of each case must be weighed on their own points. She should have stopped no matter what.” FRIENDS REMEMBER COURTNEY A contingent of Granite Bay High School students turned out in force for Tuesday’s sentencing to show their support to the family. Many dressed in Courtney T-shirts and brought posters emblazoned with words and photos of their friend. “It’s a lot harder than everyone anticipated,” said junior Morgan Smith, who was in the same class as Courtney. Junior Jillian Halverstadt described her friend as “really fun.” She recalled Courtney’s piercing laugh as “so sincere every time.” “She could make anything fun,” she said. Mikkel White said Courtney’s popularity stemmed from bridging diverse student groups at the school. “She was friends with everybody, and after her death it brought us all closer,” she said. But she added: “It’s painful to think she won’t be here to grow up with us and graduate.” Portia Berger, a friend who cheered with Courtney, described a hard-working team member. She was excellent at tumbling, and one time even continued through a tumbling routine after breaking her arm – she tumbled with one wing. MOVING ON Berset will serve three years in state prison, as well as a year in jail for the misdemeanor charge; however, because the terms are served concurrently, the total jail time amounts to three years. Berset was remanded into custody immediately following Tuesday’s hearing. Nancy Parker said she supports strengthening current hit-and-run laws that she believes encourage drunk drivers involved in an accident to leave the scene because perpetrators are guaranteed at least 10 years if alcohol is proved a factor. The sentencing will provide some sense of closure, though she said the family will never completely heal. “I’m going to try to get on and make my family whole,” she said.