Mark Seeger, a 66-year-old Nogales resident, was cycling along North Grand Avenue on the morning of May 31, 2020, when he was struck and killed by a driver who was high on methamphetamine and who didn’t stop to render aid.
The driver, 43-year-old Hector Francisco Heredia of Nogales, was tracked down, arrested, and on Monday, sentenced to a 7.5-year prison term after pleading guilty to one count of manslaughter, a Class 2 felony.
The length of the prison term was fixed at 7.5 years according to the terms of Heredia’s plea agreement with the state. But county prosecutor Gary Redente told Judge Thomas Fink that it was an aggravated punishment due to factors including the suffering endured by Seeger’s family and the fact that Heredia had fled the scene of the crime.
At one point during Monday’s sentencing hearing at Santa Cruz County Superior Court, Fink read a statement from Seeger’s sister Deborah that she had written on behalf of herself and Seeger’s widow, Lupita.
“It is impossible to put into words the hardship and lonely feelings we all share,” the letter said, noting that the Seegers had custody of Lupita’s granddaughter and Mark was homeschooling the girl at the time of his death. Deborah also said that her parents had died and Mark had been her only remaining link to the family.
“Perhaps the hardest thing for all of us is that Mark was hit and left to die on the street by a man with no regard for his life,” the letter said. “Please don’t allow this dangerous man back into the Nogales community for many years.”
Seeger was a long-time Child Protective Services supervisor in Nogales, as well as a stalwart of the local cycling scene. He helped start cycling races in the local area in the 1980s, and also helped get races going in Nogales, Sonora.
A day after he was killed, dozens of cyclists joined for a memorial ride through the city, pedaling the length of Grand Avenue and past the spot between Congress Drive and Frank Reed Road where Heredia, driving a Ford pickup, ran into Seeger as he was riding southbound at about 7 a.m. on May 31, 2020. Witnesses said Seeger went over the hood and back of the truck before falling onto the road, Redente said during Heredia’s change of plea hearing in February.
The truck was later located in the Monte Carlo neighborhood and Heredia was arrested the same day as the collision, the Nogales Police Department said at the time.
During Monday’s sentencing hearing, defense lawyer George Damon said Heredia “feels horrible for what happened.”
As for why Heredia didn’t stop after running Seeger down, Damon said: “The bottom line, he was under the influence of methamphetamine, he wasn’t in his right mind and he left the scene. It wasn’t until the next day when he was interviewed by the police that he realized he had killed somebody and he took it very hard.”
“It’s not a malicious act, it’s a reckless act,” Damon said.
Heredia read a statement he wrote in jail, in which he asked forgiveness from the family and said “I find it very difficult to forgive myself.”
“I am fully aware of the damage I have caused to the victim’s family,” he said. “But I would like it to be known that I myself have damaged my own life because of my irresponsibility in driving under the influence and not paying attention to what I was doing.”
Fink sentenced him to the agreed-upon term without additional comment.
The judge gave Heredia credit for 288 days already served in custody and ordered him to pay $10,281 in restitution.