Navy Sailor Sentenced in DUI That Killed Couple Out on Daily Walk

Earl Smith Jr., 21, was driving drunk when he slammed into a Valley Center couple out for a walk on Jul. 7, 2013

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    NEWSLETTERS

    An active-duty Navy sailor who pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol in a crash that killed a Valley Center couple was sentenced to prison. NBC 7's Todd Strain reports.

    A Navy sailor who pleaded guilty to driving drunk in a crash that killed a Valley Center couple out on their early-morning walk will spend the next 11 years in prison for the deadly DUI.

    Earl Smith Jr., 21, was sentenced Wednesday on charges of gross vehicular manslaughter in connection with the deaths of North County couple Carl Ackermann, 79, and Eunice Ackermann, 78.

    In a statement issued through his lawyer during the sentencing, Smith apologized to the Ackermann family and said he wanted everyone to use his case as an example not to drink and drive.

    On Jul. 7, at around 6:15 a.m., Smith struck and killed the Ackermanns on eastbound Old Castle Road. The couple was out on their daily walk in their Valley Center neighborhood when they were fatally hit by Smith’s car.

    Couple Struck, Killed on Daily Walk

    [DGO] Couple Struck, Killed on Daily Walk
    We now know the names of the couple killed while taking the same morning walk they've taken for decades. NBC 7's Greg Bledsoe reports.

    Smith – an active-duty Seaman E3 and just 20 years old at the time – had attended a house party in Fallbrook hours before the crash and was driving under the influence of alcohol.

    He drifted off the driveway and slammed into the Ackermanns, who were walking with their backs to traffic. The couple was instantly killed upon impact, according to investigators.

    Smith was not injured in the collision and was immediately arrested on suspicion of DUI. Days later, he was charged in the case and pleaded not guilty in a Vista courtroom.

    Prosecutors said Smith was given a blood-alcohol level test an hour-and-a-half after the crash and it came back at .12, which prosecutors described as “well over the legal limit.”

    Couple Killed on Daily Walk

    [DGO] Couple Killed on Daily Walk
    Earl Smith, Jr of Oceanside was driving his Toyota Camry eastbound on Old Castel Road when the vehicle and collided with an elderly couple walking on the side of the roadway. The 79-year-old man and 78-year-old woman were killed instantly. NBC 7's Todd Stain reports.

    Friends told NBC 7 that Smith had a prior DUI in 2012 and had been in the Navy for two years, living on a local base. On the morning of the fatal crash, friends said Smith had left the party around 3:30 a.m. and said he was going to sleep in his car.

    On Oct. 16, Smith entered a guilty plea of gross vehicular manslaughter in connection with the case.

    During Wednesday’s sentencing, a deputy district attorney read a statement from the Ackermann’s niece.

    “The loss of my aunt and uncle is a terrible experience and the time I’ve lost with them cannot be replaced,” read the statement, in part. “This has been a tragic experience for all involved.”

    According to neighbors who lived near the Ackermanns, the couple was known for walking together, hand-in-hand, every day.

    “This couple, we saw them every day. I just saw them the other day walking. They were [always] around the neighborhood, and we’d wave at them. They were just always holding hands,” Valley Center resident Christina Rivera said.

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