‘Horrific collision’ results in 22-year prison term

Kurt Hildebrand / The Record-Courier

The survivors of a horrific fatal collision on Lake Tahoe’s East Shore described what happened when a man driving nearly 90 mph with a .205 blood alcohol content failed to negotiate a curve and affected the lives of at least three families.

Described as a good father, husband and uncle by his family, Rafael Cortez, 52, was killed on March 7, 2021, in a collision that injured his niece and left a couple in a third vehicle traumatized.

Alfred James Villalobos, 29, the driver of a Subaru Impreza that rear-ended Cortez’ Toyota Tacoma on U.S. Highway 50, was sentenced to 108-272 months in prison on Tuesday.

The couple in the Toyota sedan escaped serious injury after a pickup landed on their hood in a March 7, 2021, collision on U.S. Highway 50 near Glenbrook.

Cortez’ niece, who was severely injured in the collision, described sitting next to her uncle in the Tacoma after it was struck from the rear. She said her uncle wrestled with the steering wheel trying to get the pickup back over the yellow lane and then hearing him say, “Oh my God,” as it flew through the air.

“The only thing I wanted after we landed was for my uncle to wake up,” she said. “I couldn’t stop asking for him.”

The survivor, who received a broken back in the collision, said that she has since had a child, that she has difficulty carrying due to her injuries.

Cortez’ wife testified that the sentencing hearing was the first time she’d seen the man who took her husband’s life.

“I don’t hate you,” she said. “The decision you made ruined the lives of a lot of people. My children will never see their father again. They will never hug him or receive his advice.”

Cortez’ two children, who also made sentencing statements on Tuesday.

“I want you to put my father’s killer in prison for a long time,” said Cortez’ son. “That’s what he deserves.”

Cortez’ daughter said she was 16 when her father was killed and that she dropped out of high school to help her mother.

“He did everything for us,” she said.

A woman who was in a third vehicle, the sedan the Tacoma landed on, said that while she and the driver were able to walk away, they were both traumatized by the collision and that it exacerbated her fibromyalgia.

She said they were driving at Lake Tahoe when she saw the vehicles tumbling toward their sedan before the pickup landed on their hood.

Villalobos said he accepted responsibility for what he did.

“The decision I made resulted in the death of a brother, father and uncle to a family that was just trying to make a living,” he said. “The decision I made to drive that day was stupid and selfish.”

Villalobos said he’d contemplated suicide a couple of times in the first year after the collision.

“There’s no amount of sorries I can say for what I’ve done,” he said.

Prosecutor Chelsea Mazza introduced photos of the collision as part of her sentencing argument. One of Cortez after the collision was sealed by Judge Tod Young. Mazza said the extrapolated blood alcohol content when the collision occurred was .205. When authorities got an opportunity for a blood draw, it was down to .154, according to the report included in the court file.

Attorney Matthew Ence asked the court to sentence Villalobos to 3-8 years, saying he suffered from severe substance abuse disorder.

In addition to the prison sentence, Villalobos was ordered to pay $17,115.35 in restitution and remanded into custody.

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