The pictures accomplished what words alone couldn’t convey about how a Los Olivos woman’s decision to drive after taking anti-anxiety medicine destroyed the life of an avid athlete from Tennessee.
Deputy District Attorney Wes Meyer projected two pictures side by side on a large screen Wednesday in a Santa Maria courtroom where Alicia Gilbert was sentenced to four years and four months in state prison.
In one picture, a beaming and triumphant Gary Holmes stood on a podium after completing a triathlon. In the other, Holmes stared vacantly toward the camera, an oxygen tube in his nose and his head resting listlessly on a pillow.
The second picture shows how the 57-year-old Holmes appears today after he was nearly killed when Gilbert, 32, plowed her vehicle into a pack of cyclists March 15 on Foxen Canyon Road near Los Olivos. Holmes had been riding with the pack as part of a cycling camp.
Holmes suffered serious brain and other injuries in the collision, and another cyclist named Su Chang from Washington was also injured to a lesser degree.
Gilbert pleaded no contest last month to felony driving under the influence causing injury.
For sentencing purposes, a no-contest plea is treated the same as a guilty plea.
Gilbert must serve 85 percent of her sentence before she is eligible for parole, per sentencing guidelines.
The conviction counts as a “strike,” meaning another felony conviction will bring her double the usual punishment.
Gilbert’s prison sentence of four years and four months was agreed upon as part of the plea agreement that resulted in other charges being dropped.
Meyer has said that Gilbert was under the influence of prescription anti-anxiety medication when the crash happened.
At a sentencing hearing, victims and their supporters are invited to make statements before the court.
On Wednesday afternoon, anti-distracted driving activist Eilene Okerblom read a statement written by Holmes’ sister, Debbie Jones, who did not attend the hearing. Several friends of Holmes were in court for the hearing, and were moved to tears.
Jones wrote that Holmes was so seriously injured she doesn’t know what intelligence the once extremely bright man still has. He remains in a semi-comatose state and is unable to walk or talk.
“He is not fully aware of his surroundings,” Jones wrote.
Among his injuries, Holmes suffered broken ribs, two collapsed lungs and a shattered pelvis, his sister noted.
“We do hear him laugh, but as reality sinks in, we hear his sobs much louder than any other sound,” Jones continued.
She said her elderly father worries that he won’t live to see his son return to his former self.
Only she and her father maintain hope that Holmes will recover, Jones said.
Her comments also addressed Gilbert directly, and Gilbert listened with her head turned away as Okerblom read the statement.
“Make the most of this time to get well. Remember what you have done, and change your life, and say no to the drugs that alter your mind. I hope that you come out of this ordeal and use your experience to be an advocate for those who have suffered the way my brother has,” Jones wrote.
“He was not just someone on a bicycle, but he was Gary Holmes from Memphis, Tennessee, who was loved by many.”
Meyer displayed photos of a smiling Holmes swimming, bicycling and running over the years, and juxtaposed the images with ones of Holmes expressionless in a wheelchair or in a hospital bed hooked to medical equipment via tubes.
“These photos are showing what he loved to do. It’s not just exercising, it’s a way of life for him that he did for many, many years,” Meyer said. “And he will never be able to take a part of that again.”
Meyer handed Gilbert a photo that contained the image of the triumphant Holmes alongside the picture of him staring vacantly.
“I would ask that you take it to prison with you and put it up on your wall so you look at it every single day,” he said, adding that he hoped she remembers Holmes and changes her life.
Gilbert then delivered a brief but emotional speech, apologizing to the Holmes family.
She said she agreed “100 percent” with what Debbie Jones said, and wished she had the money to make the family restitution payments every 15 days like Jones asked.
“I wouldn’t take anything else away from him that he deserves,” Gilbert added.
“I am truly sorry,” she said.