A 19-year-old man who fatally crashed his car into another driver on State Route 56 in Rancho Penasquitos earlier this year while driving under the influence of drugs was sentenced Friday in an extremely emotional hearing in a San Diego courtroom.
“Please know I will spend the rest of my life remembering what I have done and trying to make up for my mistake," Timothy Barnette said between sobs, addressing the court and the victim's family as he read from a letter he had prepared. “From the bottom of my heart, I am sorry.”
With that guilty plea, Barnette was sentenced to six years in state prison Friday – nearly seven months after the fatal crash that changed the course of his young life, and Hart’s life, forever.
Barnette cried throughout the entire sentencing, which was attended by members of both his and Hart's family, including the victim's parents.
At one point, Hart's father, George Hart, addressed the courtroom, and Barnette. Between sobs, this is what the heartbroken dad had to say:
“We’re a strong family. We have faith in the system and we have faith in people. And, because we are a strong family, we believe in you. And we will forgive you. Do the right thing. You’re going to be faced with a lot of challenges in there – do the right thing.”
Sentencing Judge Eugenia Eyherabide reminded Barnette to -- in the word's of Hart's family -- "fashion your future in honor of Nick," to which Barnette nodded as he wiped tears from his face.
Hart’s sister, Kaitlyn Hart, also spoke in court, sharing memories of her late brother’s life and smile.
“His smile lives on in picture and his voice in video but is lost to us forever,” said Kaitlyn, as Barnette and the courtroom listened. “I sincerely hope Mr. Barnette knows the magnitude of the life he took. Nick was going to change the world. Nicholas was the boy who always saw the rainbow, but never the rain. Our family has suffered a great loss, but we are not broken. We will continue to live our lives as Nicholas would’ve wanted.”
Hart’s mother, Jennifer Wood, also spoke.
“[Nicholas] will forever be 22 and absent from our lives. No more birthdays or holidays. We will never be able to see his beautiful smile, kiss him, have a wonderful conversation and see him flourish in everything he would do,” Wood said.
Hart’s brother, Garrett Hart, told Barnette to remember Nick’s birthday every year on March 9, and remember exactly what he did.
“Do you know how hard it is to speak at a funeral for your brother who was killed senselessly? I’m wearing my brother’s watch today that he was wearing when you actually killed him. You shouldn’t be alive. He should be here with us,” said Garrett.
Joan Reynolds, Hart’s grandmother, also spoke to Barnette in court.
“We hope and pray that you will think about our Nicholas every day knowing that you survived and he did not,” said Reynolds.
Once the Hart family finished their statements, Barnette took an opportunity to address the family.
“You have no idea how horrible I feel for what I have done to Nick and your family," he said. "I had no idea how much of a risk I was causing to the public while driving under the influence. I wish I could go back in time knowing what I know now so I could try to change things.”
After Barnette’s comments, his mother, Georgia Barnette, spoke.
“My heart breaks for the Hart family. I can only imagine the pain for the loss of their son. I can only pray that God is with you. I am truly sorry for your loss,” said the defendant's mother.
Barnette's sister, Stephie Barnette, also spoke in court, addressing the Hart family and her little brother on behalf of the Barnette siblings.
She apologized to the Hart family and then, between tears, turned to Barnette with this message:
“To me, you will always be our little brother. The way we feel about you will never change. If I could – if any of us could – take your place, we would be there in a heartbeat. I love you so much; we all do,” said Stephie.
Prosecutors say Barnette was driving under the influence of Xanax, marijuana and possibly inhalants at time of the fatal collision.
That day, at around 9:45 a.m., Barnette was driving a Land Rover traveling eastbound on SR-56, just east of Black Mountain Road, when his car drifted into the center median and into opposing traffic lanes of westbound SR-56.
At the same time, Hart – a graduate of Poway High School -- was driving a Toyota traveling westbound on SR-56. Barnette’s Land Rover struck Hart’s car, and Hart was killed in the crash.
CHP officials arrested Barnette following the fatal collision on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs. He was then released to a local hospital for immediate care because he suffered major injuries in the crash.
Two weeks later, CHP officials confirmed Barnette had been arrested and booked into jail on charges of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and driving under the influence of a controlled substance causing injury or death.
He’s been behind bars ever since.
On May 31, Barnette appeared in court for his arraignment and pleaded not guilty to charges. At the time, he was still recovering from injuries sustained in the fatal crash and sat in a wheelchair, wearing a cast, as the charges against him were read.
Deputy District Attorney Roy Lai said a preliminary toxicology report revealed that Barnette was driving under the influence of Xanax and marijuana.
Lai also revealed that three separate phone calls were made to 911 on May 16 regarding Barnette’s allegedly erratic driving, which including weaving in and out of traffic and running red lights.
Lai said one caller reported Barnette driving on the curb at Ted Williams Parkway, another caller said Barnette was driving recklessly on the I-15 on-ramp at SR-56 and a third caller reported Barnette allegedly driving erratically on Camino Del Sur.
After that final call was placed, Lai said Barnette got back on SR-56 and moments later, the fatal crash involving Hart occurred.
Many witnesses testified in court about Barnette’s erratic driving on the day of the crash, with many saying Barnette was swerving on the road and cutting off cars.
A California Highway Patrol officer also testified in the case and said Barnette had admitted to taking Xanax pills and smoking marijuana two days before the accident, as well as inhaling computer keyboard cleaner two months earlier.
When officials searched Barnette’s car, they found two cans of computer keyboard cleaner inside, one of which was empty, the CHP officer testified.