HEBER CITY, Utah — The man convicted of driving drunk when he killed six people on U.S. Highway 40 in Heber last October learned his fate Wednesday – three consecutive sentences of 1-to-15 years in prison.
Initially, Jamie McKenzie’s attorney, Jessica Peterson, asked the judge to postpone the sentencing for a week after recently discovering her client suffered sexual trauma during his childhood that contributed to his alcoholism. The judge denied that request and what followed was extremely emotional testimony from everyone who spoke.
Even with his head down, McKenzie couldn't escape the desperately sad pleas from Viridiana and Heidi Cardenas, the daughters of one of his six victims.
"I couldn’t say goodbye to my dad properly. They recommend us not to open the casket because of the way his body was. I couldn’t say goodbye to him. I couldn’t hug him or kiss him," Viridiana Cardenas said.
"I hate this person so much because this could’ve been prevented if this person was not irresponsible," Heidi Cardenas said.
Police say McKenzie was under the influence of alcohol and drugs when he got behind the wheel of a 75,000-pound dump truck and crossed the median barrier of U.S. Highway 40 near Jordanelle Reservoir, vaulting over the cable barrier and hitting a pickup truck on the driver's side.
Three of the six occupants in the truck were ejected from the vehicle; all six were killed on impact, according to police.
Jonathan Boyd with the Utah Highway Patrol was one of the first to respond.
"Now when we pass those dump trucks or large vehicles we view those as a weapon of mass destruction," Boyd said.
Even prosecutor Case Wade had trouble holding back tears as he described the carnage of the scene.
"He said the only person I saw out of the vehicle was one and he was cut in half. That a 13-year-old boy witnessed an individual who had been cut in half because of this accident, flying through the air, is just a small instance of just how far reaching the trauma and consequences of this incident are," Wade said.
McKenzie expressed sorrow as he apologized to the families of his six victims.
"Words cannot express the shame and guilt I feel each day. If I could go back and take the place of any or all of them I would do it in a minute," McKenzie said.
His attorney also became emotional as she begged the judge for mercy.
"Individuals are more than their biggest mistake. Jamie has value even though it’s nearly impossible to see that he has value right now," Peterson said.
Despite those pleas, the judge handed down the maximum punishment of three consecutive sentences of one to fifteen years in prison.
However, the Cardenas family is not leaving satisfied.
"Because if he stays in there it doesn’t matter. My dad is not coming back," Cardenas said.
There was a beautiful moment of forgiveness outside the courtroom. McKenzie’s family and the Cardenas family embraced and apologized to each other. Two families leaving heartbroken.
McKenzie had at least five prior offenses involving alcohol inside a vehicle.