Tearful end to two families’ sagas
A heartbreaking scene involving the dismantling of two families and the pitfalls of drug use played out during the last court proceeding for a South Lake Tahoe father of five sentenced to spend roughly a decade in prison.
The Friday sentencing of Tracy Rippetoe, a 42-year-old plumber, at El Dorado County Superior Court emptied Kleenex boxes and caused a choked-up judge to retreat to his chambers to collect his composure.
Rippetoe will spend 10 years and eight months in prison for killing 41-year-old Kimberly White and injuring her sister, Jennifer Urbanski, in a July 8 accident along Emerald Bay Road.
The sentence was part of a guilty plea last month. Rippetoe has been in custody at El Dorado County Jail since he was arrested five months ago.
Rippetoe faced up to 20 years in prison on charges including gross vehicular manslaughter while under the influence, possession of methamphetamine, injury on more than one person and causing great bodily injury to a survivor of the accident.
Beside prison time, Rippetoe was ordered to pay more than $66,000 in restitution fees from Urbanski’s medical bills and White’s funeral.
Urbanski was White’s lone passenger. She had to undergo emergency surgery for internal injuries. The Ford F-250 Rippetoe was driving that sliced into the Mercedes stopped 24 inches from fatally harming her, Urbanski said.
A scar runs across her abdomen from the surgery. The scar and the loss of White act as a daily reminder of the accident, she said.
“He changed the lives, dreams, and goals of an entire family with his actions on July 8,” Urbanski said.
“He killed her and we get the life sentence,” she added.
Urbanski’s words left many in tears. She described how July 8 has changed from being her daughter’s birthday to include the anniversary of her sister’s death.
Deputy Public Defender David Rogers spoke of the good his client has done: a Pop Warner football coach, playing Santa Claus, caring for five children and seven grandchildren and being a volunteer firefighter.
“I don’t know if he’s able to express himself today but I want to make clear since this happened he has expressed great remorse,” Rogers said.
Rippetoe did speak.
“I didn’t mean to do this. I’m so sorry,” he said, himself teary.
Deputy District Attorney Peter O’Hara didn’t waiver. He cited authorities finding methamphetamine at Rippetoe’s house two weeks after the accident and the plumber being under the influence of the drug while driving to a job on the morning of July 23.
Then it was Lasarow’s turn. The judge was able to get out one sentence before he excused himself to his chambers.
“Again, I guess this is a day I wished I was retired,” he said. Lasarow then took several minutes to compose himself.
“I get emotional so you’ll have to excuse me,” he explained. “I like my job and this is a time I hate it because no matter what I do, I can’t do the right thing. Two families here have been destroyed, one more than the other.”
Lasarow said roughly 70 percent of his Friday caseload contained violations involving drugs or alcohol. He directed several remarks to a news reporter in the audience.
“I hope you make it a clear point: This type of behavior has to stop,” Lasarow said, adding “Maybe some people will read it and understand the devastation it causes.”
The hearing ended like a person waking from a bad dream. White’s family filed out of the courtroom. Most came from the Bay Area to attend the sentencing.
On his way back to jail, Rippetoe glanced at his tearful wife. He quickly mouthed three words: I love you.
– E-mail William Ferchland at firstname.lastname@example.org