A woman who pleaded guilty to killing a U.S. Navy service member in a road rage incident in San Diego sobbed in court Friday after learning her punishment.
Darla Jackson, 27, was sentenced to six years in prison for the death of U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Zachary Buob, 39. She was facing between three to 11 years in prison but the judge gave her a midterm, opting for six years behind bars. Jackson has alread spent two years in jail for the crime, which will be counted toward her total sentence.
Upon hearing her fate, Jackson began to weep.
"No, no. Oh God no. Oh God no," she said, crying as she was taken out of the courtroom.
The victim's parents, Gary and Kathy Buob, spoke with media following the hearing. Gary Buob said he was not happy with the verdict and had hoped Jackson would get a longer sentence.
“You throw a dog out a window; you get 11 years in prison. You stab a firefighter in the shoulder -- not kill him, just stab him, you get nine years in prison," he said. "But you run over a member of the military on a motorcycle and you get six years. Justice, to me, was not served to the full extent.”
“We’ll never get to see him again," said Kathy, in tears.
She added that their family was thankful for the support from the community, motorcycle groups and the Navy SEAL Foundation.
Also sobbing, Buob's sister had this to say to reporters at the courthouse:
"He was my big brother; he was my protector. He taught me so much. He’s gone, and I miss him."
Throughout Friday's proceedings, emotions, on both sides, were high. Jackson sighed deeply and cried as she heard the victim's family speak in court. She also had a chance to address the court.
"I'm not that person I'm made out to be," she sobbed. "I did make mistakes that day, and I take full responsibility for all of them."
"Please, believe me when I say, I did not intend to harm your loved one," Jackson added, speaking to Buob's family. "Please accept my heartfelt apology."
On May 28, 2015, Buob – a motorcycle and dirt bike enthusiast – was riding his red Ducati motorcycle on northbound Interstate 5 near E Street in Chula Vista.
As he moved into the fast lane, witnesses testified that Jackson, driving her Nissan Altima, sped up and cut Buob off, maneuvering in front of him in the same lane. Witnesses said Jackson veered onto the left shoulder of the freeway to do this.
According to Jackson and witnesses, as Jackson and Buob interacted on the freeway,Buob kicked the passenger side door of Jackson’s car and darted off. Jackson chased him to get his license plate number but wound up hitting and killing him with her car.
Prosecutors said the crash was a deadly case of road rage.
San Diego Deputy District Attorney Laura Evans called Jackson "dangerous" and hoped she would get the help she needed.
“I think it’s going to be difficult for the family but I think justice was served as best as it could be today," Evans said. "Nothing is going to bring Zach back but I think justice was served and [Jackson's] going to be punished appropriately.”
At Jackson’s tearful preliminary hearing in November 2015, witnesses said Buob reacted to being cut off by Jackson by shaking his head and shaking his pointer finger at her in a “scolding manner.” One witness said Jackson swerved on the freeway to hit Buob several times as each motorist sped up to one another.
As Buob approached the off-ramp to eastbound State Route 54, he cut across all lanes. Jackson followed closely behind. Moments later, after passing National City Boulevard on SR-54, Jackson crashed into Buob.
According to investigators, Jackson was driving at 95 mph six seconds before the crash. When she hit Buob’s motorcycle, she was traveling at 81 mph.
One witness testified that all he could see at the crash site that day was brake lights and “a big dust cloud.” Buob was thrown off his motorcycle, onto the ground.
He died an hour later at a San Diego-area hospital.
Initially, Jackson was charged with murder as prosecutors argued that she intentionally hit Buob. In January 2017, Jackson pleaded guilty to a lesser charge – voluntary manslaughter – and the count of murder was dropped.
At that time, Jackson’s defense attorney, Stephen Cline, said his client was “concerned whether she could get a jury that could look at the real facts of this case.”
“She decided she couldn’t do it,” Cline added.
Her attorney said that prior to the deadly collision, Jackson had no criminal record. He said Jackson was diagnosed with severe Complex Trauma Disorder following the crash. Cline also said that Jackson chased Buob after he kicked her car so she could get his information because “he had done substantial damage to her car door.”
He later added that Jackson will most likely spend time at a women's correctional facility up north and will not see her 5-year-old daughter. He argued that she would not be getting the help needs in prison.
Jackson's mother has said that the fatal crash was an accident.
Buob spent 20 years as a U.S. service member, serving as a Gunner’s Mate on USS Antietam before joining Navy Special Warfare Command. He served many tours throughout his military career and his loved ones have said that it deeply hurts that he was ultimately killed in his home country.
In June 2015 Buob's mother, Kathy Buob, shared some personal details about her beloved son, calling him a man who truly enjoyed life.
"He had a quick wit, fun personality and was so friendly that it was hard not to be his friend," said Kathy. "He had a great laugh that you could hear as he enjoyed life."