Last October, Tim Albo was the victim of a hit-and-run accident that left him in a coma. Brandon Mondragon was charged and convicted of the crime, but Albo's family was frustrated that he only got six months. And they're even more upset now that Mondragon's punishment ended this week after just three months due to good behavior.
"He spent less time in jail than my brother did in rehab," says Melanie Salazar, Tim's sister. Moreover, Tim still faces huge medical challenges owing to the head injury he sustained -- which couldn't have made reading this tweet from Mondragon's Twitter account any easier:
I'm free, I'M FREE..!. No more jail for me. Woohoo
According to Salazar, the family worked with the district attorney's office to ensure that Mondragon would do a full six months of work release. But because of what she describes as a paperwork oversight, the offense was classified as a misdemeanor -- and he was able to be freed from his obligation in half the proscribed sentence under those guidelines.
This development only makes Albo's family more determined to push for legislation to change punishment for hit and runs, particularly as it relates to people who commit such crimes under the influence of alcohol or drugs. "We want to take the incentive away," she says. "A hit and run/DUI is classified as a class four felony, while just a hit and run is a class five felony. So there's an incentive for anyone with alcohol or drugs in their system to leave the scene of an accident. That way, if they're caught later, they get a class five felony instead of a class four."
If such drivers realized that their punishment would be the same whether they were caught while still intoxicated or after they'd sobered up, Salazar says "maybe they'd show some humanity and stay at the scene."
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The Albos are working with Representative Rhonda Fields to make such a change -- and if they're successful, they'd like to see mandatory sentencing for hit and runs down the line. Until then, however, they're left to deal with what they see as the unfairness of the current situation.
"We have millions of dollars in medical bills, and we have to find medical coverage for Tim -- so this has a lasting effect for us," she says. And with Mondragon's early release, "it just feels like we're being victimized over and over again. That wasn't a trash can he hit. That was my little brother.
"This situation has got to change," she continues. "It's not going to change our situation, but we can hope and pray it changes for people in the future."
More from our Follow That Story archive: "Tim Albo: Hit-and-run victim making progress, but brother Rodney says he faces long road."