The 53-year old Bethesda woman Ray William Wolfrey killed in Clarksville in his third drunken-driving incident last year "was at a high point in her life," her brother said during an emotional two-hour sentencing Friday in Howard County Circuit Court.
Mary Elizabeth "Liza" Valenzuela was a senior expert on international microfinancing programs, and helped people across Africa, Asia and Latin America learn to operate small businesses with very small loans, her brother, David Valenzuela, told Judge Diane Leasure. She had recovered from a traumatic divorce and had a loving fiance. Her two children were doing well in college, and she was working toward her dream of owning land in southern Chile, where she and her four older brothers were born and were raised by Methodist missionaries.
The night of Oct. 10, 2009, she and her fiance, Kevin Hans, 52, of Fulton, had gone out to dinner. They stopped to get some milk at the River Hill Giant and were headed home, southbound on Route 108. That's when Wolfrey's car, swerving as he drove home from a college football outing with friends, according to police, hit her rear bumper. Valenzuela's Volkswagen Passat slammed into a telephone pole, which hit her head and killed her instantly.
"I stayed by Liza's side and watched as she slipped away," Hans tearfully recounted in court. He returned to the accident scene the next morning and found some of her hair embedded in the pole, he said. "She was my sweet little baby."
Wolfrey, 29, of Fulton, kept going and went home, where evidence showed he had several more beers. Police, following a trail of fluid leaking from his battered Volkswagen, arrived to arrest him. Wolfrey was sentenced to nine years in prison plus five years suspended and five years probation, which was exactly what prosecutor Danielle Duclaux had requested. Wolfrey also agreed to pay $19,954 in restitution.
Wolfrey had two previous drunken-driving convictions, and had violated probation both times, but he spent only five weekends in prison, according to court documents. He's been on home detention since he pleaded guilty Aug. 2 to vehicular manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident in the Valenzuela case.
Wolfrey, backed by a psychologist and treatment specialists from several alcohol programs he's completed, said he realized after the fatal crash that he's an alcoholic. He's filled with remorse and shame, his mother and other supporters said, and he told the court and the Valenzuela family that he plans to devote his life to helping other alcoholics when he gets out of prison.
"I'm sorry. There's nothing I can do to bring her back or change your feelings about me," he said to his victim's family as he shuddered, tears streaming down his face.
His mother, Linda Wolfrey, to Valenzuela's family, "I know your grief. I feel it to my bones. It brought me to my knees." She said her grandmother, also named Mary Elizabeth, had died years ago in a car accident.
Leasure said the death and the previous convictions as well as the hit-and-run could not be overlooked and deserved a sentence above the one to six years called for by judicial guidelines.