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Gazette Premium Content Hit-and-run driver expresses sorrow, gets 36 years

LANCE BENZEL Updated: March 22, 2013 at 12:00 am

Waiting for his sentence to be imposed in the hit-and-run death of a 14-year-old Colorado Springs boy, a six-time felon addressed a courtroom Friday in broken, halting Spanish, as if reciting from memory.

Without an interpreter in court, only relatives of Ricardo “Ricky” Gonzalez Figueroa understood the words spoken by David Allan Henley.

“He just said, ‘Sorry,’ as best as he could,” the victim’s 18-year-old sister, Cintia Gonzalez, said of Henley’s faltering statement.

The boy’s mother, Yolanda Figueroa, clutched a tissue and began to cry anew as Henley addressed her and her family.

“It means a lot,” she said in Spanish after the hearing, with her daughter translating.

For a family struggling with loss, the exchange prompted a fresh wave of emotion in court as 4th Judicial District Court Judge David A. Gilbert imposed a 36-year prison sentence against Henley — capping a saga in which Henley first tried to elude police after the May 3, 2012, traffic crash, and then ultimately turned himself in and insisted on pleading guilty.

An eighth-grader at Galileo School of Math and Science, Gonzalez Figueroa was crossing South Circle Drive at Airport Road when he was hit by a pickup whose driver kept on going.

Henley, who was arrested several days later, pleaded guilty in November to hit-and-run involving a death and two sentence enhancers, agreeing to serve the 36 years as a condition of his plea deal.

Whether Henley was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the crash is unclear. Because he fled, police were unable to complete blood testing after the crash.

Henley, 38, is no stranger to the law. His criminal record includes dozens of arrests and six felony convictions — for aggravated motor vehicle theft, attempted motor vehicle theft, menacing, eluding police and first-degree assault. He was first branded a habitual traffic offender in 1992, and he faces an upcoming trial on charges of possessing child pornography, to which he has pleaded not guilty.

“It is as messy a criminal history as I’ve had the misfortune to compile,” lead prosecutor Michael Fisher told the court.

According to public defender Kim Chalmers, Henley’s trouble with the law revolves around a long-standing battle with drug addiction.

At the time of the crash, Henley was trying to put his life back on track, she said. He was enrolled at Pikes Peak Community College and held a job that helped support his girlfriend’s children, Chalmers said. She maintained he fled because he feared the consequences due to his lack of a driver’s license.

When it came to fighting the charges in court, Henley refused.

“He said he didn’t want to put the family through a trial,” Chalmers told the court. “He wasn’t willing to let us say he didn’t do it.”

In handing down the sentence, Gilbert said Colorado Springs police had Henley “dead to rights” and that given his confession and all the evidence against him, a jury trial would have been “a formality.”

“You said, ‘I’m done running. I’m going to deal with this,’” Gilbert said. “I appreciate that, and on some level, I think everyone involved in this case appreciates that.”

He added: “For the loss of this boy, for this family, there is no solace.”

Gonzalez Figueroa’s parents and sister echoed the judge’s comments even as they expressed their gratitude for the apology.

They recalled the boy as a friendly, popular student who was excited to begin high school. He enjoyed sports, video games, playing guitar and piano, and loved to work out, his family said in an obituary.

“I wish this hadn’t happened as much as he does,” Yolanda Figueroa said in Spanish, her husband and daughter at her side. “And it hurts us that this happened to David Henley and his family.”

The sentencing comes two days after the family and their supporters returned to the crash site with personal mementos and bouquets of balloons, commemorating what would have been the boy’s 15th birthday.

Said Cintia Gonzalez: “They all brought new things to put on the corner, and then we let the balloons go.”

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