KGUN 9NewsLocal News

Actions

Man sentenced after deadly DUI crash; victim’s father says legal system 'failed my son'

Tomas Ayala with his father, Gabriel.
Posted at 4:23 PM, Feb 21, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-21 20:31:27-05

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — It’s been nine months since 20-year-old Tomas Ayala was tragically killed, but the emotions are still very real for his family.

Ayala was driving on Old Nogales Highway in Sahuarita on May 13, 2023, when he died in a head-on collision with 24-year-old Camron Ortega.

Ortega initially faced five felony charges in Pima County Superior Court, but in December he pled guilty to two reduced charges: felony manslaughter and misdemeanor DUI.

Last week, Ortega was sentenced to 10 and a half years in prison and five years probation, short of the maximum sentence of 21 years in prison.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE

Tomas’ father Gabriel is a well-known Pascua Yacqui musician.
“He didn’t just kill my son that night. He killed us all,” Gabriel said of Ortega, who also left the scene of the crash.

Gabriel called out both attorneys in the case, Donald Porterfield and Vincent Frey, Judge Douglas Metcalf and Pima County Attorney Laura Conover. He says a plea deal shouldn’t have been an option and this was too lenient of a sentence.

“An example needed to be made of this person," said Gabriel. "And again, this system failed my son.”

Conover responded in a statement sent to KGUN 9:

“As County Attorney, I made a promise when I arrived, that I would meet with any family who had lost a loved one in the system if they wished to speak with me. This case, along with over a hundred more, was no exception. The parents of Tomás Ayala are living tributes to courage and devotion. Our hearts go out to them, to dozens more family, and to the whole Pascua Yaqui community that mourns this senseless, tragic loss to this day. This case is an example of how severe the penalties will be when you drink and drive, endangering our roads. This case is an example that sometimes when the State offers a very severe penalty, the Court may find just reason to choose a lesser sentence. And, most importantly, this case highlights that the system cannot return a son to his mother’s and father’s arms and cannot provide healing. Only in community can we bring restoration to those who grieve.”
Laura Conover, Pima County Attorney

As the Ayalas grieve, the community has been behind them.

Tomas worked in downtown Tucson at Cup Cafe inside Hotel Congress. Just outside the hotel on Toole Avenue, a tree is now planted in his honor.

“He was [working] here for [only] seven to eight months,” said Gabriel, praising the people at Hotel Congress. “That’s how much of an impact he was on people… You can’t put a price on that support, that emotional support.”

On May 13, marking one year since Tomas’ passing, friends and family will host a memorial concert at the hotel and unveil a plaque under the tree.

“Until he’s in my arms again, I won’t heal. It’s just impossible,” Gabriel said of his son. “He was a beautiful, a beautiful young man.”

Tomas was also an intern at the Green Valley Justice Court, which will rename a courtroom in his honor.

——-
Ryan Fish is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9 and comes to the Sonoran Desert from California’s Central Coast after working as a reporter, sports anchor and weather forecaster in Santa Barbara. Ryan grew up in the Chicago suburbs, frequently visiting family in Tucson. Share your story ideas and important issues with Ryan by emailing ryan.fish@kgun9.com or by connecting on Facebook and Twitter.