On Thursday afternoon outside of the South County Justice Center in Porterville, Jason Jones stood handing out news articles about a man named Chrisitan Loiler in Oklahoma who was driving drunk and hit two motorcycles, killing four people. Loiler was sentenced to 40 years in prison. Jones informed passersby that a case eerily similar to Loiler’s case was being heard in court that afternoon, but the suspect in that case is only facing 16 years.
In Department 23, shortly before 1:30 p.m., the family and friends of Jose Vargas, Rita Vargas, Gilbert Vargas and Mitzi Rodriguez, the victims who lost their lives in a fatal DUI collision Sunday morning, gathered and comforted each other before court came to order.
Judge Gary M. Johnson stepped into his courtroom and looked at the completely full benches, before asking if the suspect in question, 24-year-old Jazmin Paramo would be present in custody. One of the seven bailiffs present in the room nodded yes, and escorted Paramo into the room. Wearing a red shirt, black pants, white socks and orange jail shoes, Paramo entered into the courtroom clinking with every step from the shackles around her wrists and ankles. She peered at the floor and took her seat next to her private attorney.
Johnson began the bail hearing by stating the motion to be heard was filed by the prosecution to deny bail to Paramo. In the end, Johnson issued no bail for Paramo, revoking the previous $400,000 bail amount.
Behind the prosecution table sat Deputy District Attorney Brittany Knotts. Knotts brought it to the judge’s attention members of the victims families were waiting to address the court. She also made it clear the prosecution would be fighting for no bail for Paramo, in turn revoking the bail that was set at $400,000.
Paramo’s attorney objected to allowing the family to speak on account of one famly member already speaking at Paramo’s first hearing, and stated it would be redundant to let them speak again.
The judge asked if the person who spoke before would be speaking again to which Knotts answered no. The judge denied the objection and began to hear each of the family members.
The first to address the judge was Karina Escalara, Rita Vargas’ sister. Escalara lost both her sister and her brother-in-law in the accident.
“Please, I ask you from the bottom of my heart to set no bail so she can’t do this again,” said Escalara.
Irma Vasquez approached the bench next to address the court. Vasquez is Rita Vargas’ mother.
“(Paramo) knows what she was doing,” said Vasquez through heavy tears. “Now, I’ve got to bury my daughter.”
Alexis Vargas, the daughter of Gilbert Vargas, begged the judge to consider revoking Paramo’s bail.
“She has destroyed the lives of seven children,” said Alexis as she choked back tears and struggled to get through her speech. Alexis Vargas was referring to the children left behind by both of the couples who passed away.
Echoing the same sadness and heartbreak, Alexandra Alvarez and Karen Vanni were the last to speak.
“It’s not anger,” said Alvarez. “We are hurt and we are grieving.”
As the family spoke, sniffles and sobs could be heard from the audience, and several tissue boxes circulated around the room. Paramo sat unmoving beside her lawyer, and never looked up from the floor.
As the judge began the proceedings for the bail hearing, Knotts reminded him four lives were taken. She asked again for him to consider denying bail to Paramo and stated Paramo is a threat to public safety, committed violent acts early Sunday morning and has a record of failing to appear in court.
The judge countered Knotts by stating Paramo has a constitutional right to a reasonable bail.
Knotts retorted by saying Paramo has “a blatant disregard for the rules of the road” and has a DMV record to prove it.
Paramo’s attorney responded by stating Paramo has no record in the system, to which the judge quickly corrected by pointing out she does in fact have a mark on her record.
Johnson referred to Paramo’s risk assessment which was filed by probation. On the assessment, it’s recommended that Paramo be released on her Own Recognizance (OR).
Knotts stated the risk assessment process is troubling, and felt probation didn’t search through Paramo’s record thoroughly enough when they were evaluating.
Paramo’s attorney thought differently, and explained Paramo isn’t asking for OR or even asking for a reduced bail. He pointed out the motion was filed by Knotts and not the defense, and the bail amount of $400,000 is consistent with the bail schedule for her charges.
“My client has a right, if she elects, to make bail,” he said. “No one is cutting her a break. She is being given the full thrust of the law.”
Johnson requested a recess to review the case before he made his decision.
“I don’t know if, legally, I can make this (no bail) setting,” Johnson said before the break.”This is horrible, but I need to make legal rulings.”
Once court was back in session, Johnson announced he had a reached a decision. After reviewing her DMV record and noticing Paramo has had two prior accidents within one year, both while driving without a license, Johnson ruled Paramo poses a danger to the public. He issued no bail for Paramo, revoking the previous $400,000 bail amount.
Paramo’s next hearing is a preliminary hearing setting scheduled for October 2 at the South County Justice Center in Porterville.