A little more than two years ago Karla Garcia, who doesn’t use drugs or drink alcohol, set out for a night of fun on South Padre Island for Spring Break with her friend Selena Patino.
“It would be safe fun that we would be having,” Garcia said.
Garcia and Patino, 19, were close friends and Patino felt that she would be able to have safe fun with her friend despite crowds of Spring Breakers, who flock to the Island from colleges around Texas to party.
But little did she know that as she walked down the 4200 block of Gulf Boulevard with Patino and several friends, that would be the last time she saw her friend.
“We weren’t doing anything wrong. We were just walking,” Garcia said, while struggling to hold back tears. “The last moments I would be spending with her, I didn’t know those would be the last moments I would spend with her.”
Just before 1 a.m. on that day, March 17, 2017, as Garcia, Patino and several friends walked down the street, Daisy Joy Decker was traveling down that same road.
Decker, now 23, swerved into the group of friends, killing Patino and seriously injuring Secilia Leija, a close friend of Patino, who suffered serious injuries and spent a significant amount of time in the hospital.
On Wednesday morning, Decker admitted to driving under the influence and killing Patino by pleading guilty to a charge of intoxicated manslaughter with a vehicle, to a count of accident involving injury, to a count of accident involving serious bodily injury and to intoxicated assault with a vehicle causing bodily injury.
After emotional testimony from Patino’s friends, her mother, victims in the accident and from Decker and her parents, 445th state District Judge Gloria Rincones sentenced Decker to 11 years in prison and ordered her taken into custody.
In exchange for her guilty plea, the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office agreed to drop charges of manslaughter, two counts of accident involving injury, one count of accident involving serious bodily injury and a count of accident involving death.
Before Rincones handed down the sentence, victims gave impact statements that showed a range of emotion, from anger to survivor’s guilt to forgiveness.
Patino’s mother, Micaela Montes, looking directly at Decker, urged the woman to seek God’s forgiveness.
“In the name of Selena Patino, I give you my pardon,” Montes said. “I give you my pardon, but look for God’s pardon.”
Montes told Decker she took the life of a princess, who now smiles before God in heaven.
“But I want to tell you Daisy Decker. I’m nobody to judge you. You know that you have a creator and that creator it is his, the judgment,” Montes said. “So the only thing I ask to God is that you look for our Lord and he is going to give you his pardon.”
While a mother’s forgiveness for her daughter’s killing filled the room with emotion, Patino’s good friend, Secilia Leija, filled the room with another kind.
“I can’t forgive you. I will never forgive you,” Leija said, sobbing, while telling Decker she will never recognize what she did by taking Patino’s life. “I will never understand a mother losing a child and you will never know what it is like to lose someone so close to you.”
Decker’s parents also testified on their daughter’s behalf, begging the victims for forgiveness.
“God bless you all. I’m so sorry for your loss,” said her father, John Decker, who choked back tears through his testimony. “I know there is nothing I can say that will fill the hole in your heart.”
He begged for forgiveness.
“Please forgive us,” he said. “Please forgive my daughter.”
Decker also testified on her own behalf, saying she never meant to hurt anybody.
“I hate myself for it so much and I wish that I could bring back your daughter and I wish I could take back that night,” Decker said, while crying.
She told the court that she wishes she could trade places with Patino.
“I know that there is nothing I can say to make it right. I hate myself,” she said. “I hear these things about how she was such a good person and it kills me because I never meant to hurt anyone.”
Decker said she didn’t know what else to say, other than that she is sorry.
“I hope that I can get your forgiveness. I can’t imagine if it was my family that was hurt. I understand your pain,” Decker said. “I wish there was something I could do. I’m sorry, and I understand that I can’t get your forgiveness. That’s all I have to say.”
Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz, who was present for the hearing, said Decker’s lack of a criminal history, her close family ties and her status as a college student impacted his office’s decision to pursue a plea deal with Decker.
“You know, at the end of the day … nobody’s really totally satisfied with the sentence and I understand that and I empathize with that,” Saenz said. “However, in this case, I think we were able to get a significant sentence for this particular defendant without having to go to trial.”
By avoiding the trial, Saenz said the victims don’t have to relive the tragedy and that Decker will not be eligible for shock probation because her sentence is longer than 10 years.
She is also unable to appeal, Saenz said, adding that he thought Decker was genuinely remorseful for drinking and driving and killing Patino and injuring the other victims.
“It’s just terrible, but that’s why we as prosecutors try and preach about drinking and driving or being reckless, it can lead to death, as in this case,” Saenz said. “And it’s very sad all around and at the end of the day, the whole community loses.”