A Colorado Springs man was sentenced Monday in the fatal shooting of an Afghanistan veteran after a road-rage clash that a judge said “completely exploded” into violence.
Charles Lobato, 31, was ordered to serve six years in prison for the Jan. 7, 2018, death of Shawnee Tapia — the midpoint in the four to eight years he faced under a plea bargain.
Tapia, 36, was slain outside Astro Liquors, 3826 Astrozon Blvd., moments after the men nearly collided in the parking lot of a nearby Del Taco.
Authorities say Lobato followed Tapia to the liquor store, parked behind him and initiated a confrontation. Both men got out of their vehicles, Lobato armed with a gun and Tapia with a knife. Grainy surveillance footage makes it hard to know precisely what happened, but the judge blamed Lobato for sparking the confrontation.
“It just never should have happened,” 4th Judicial District Judge Jill Brady said.
Lobato, who fled and remained a fugitive for nine months until his arrest at a Castle Rock motel, initially was charged with first-degree murder. Prosecutors said they offered him a plea bargain because of the risks of losing the trial amid self-defense claims.
Tapia was an Army veteran who served at least one tour in Afghanistan with a mortar unit based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Wash. He is survived by two children, ages 7 and 10, and a widow from whom he was separated.
His mother, Linda Day, called him a “kind and forgiving person” who was receiving help for his alcoholism and post-traumatic stress disorder, fallout from his time at war.
“We were so proud of him and the progress he made,” she said in a letter read by a victim’s advocate.
His sister, Dakotah Tapia, described him as a loving brother with a “loving soul.”
“He would have been a great uncle to my future children,” she said.
In a remorseful address, Lobato apologized for his “childish” decisions that night and said he accepted his punishment. He vowed never again to handle weapons and said he would commit himself to peace and to helping others.
Lobato’s girlfriend, Mercedes Garcia, was sentenced Monday to three years’ probation for helping Lobato hide from authorities.