Driver Pleads Guilty To 3 Counts Of Manslaughter

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The drunk driver who killed three members of a Payson family is facing 16 to 21 years in jail and deportation to his native country of Mexico when he is released.

"I just wish it (the prison sentence) wasn't so much. It's a long, long time," said 30-year-old Rigoberto Arrazola at a Friday, Feb. 24 settlement conference held in the chambers of Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Ronald Reinstein.

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Rigoberto Arrazola

Knowing he would be arrested immediately upon accepting the plea bargain, Arrazola asked for the weekend to think it over and say goodbye to his family.

On Monday, Arrazola made a second appearance in the courtroom to accept the Maricopa County Attorney's offer to plead guilty to three counts of manslaughter, two counts of endangerment and one count of aggravated assault in exchange for lowering some charges.

Immediately following Arrazola's acceptance of the agreement, he was taken into custody by Maricopa County Sheriff's officers.

His final sentence will be handed down April 14 by Superior Court Judge Michael Gordon.

Whatever sentence Gordon decides, the defendant will serve it in an Arizona Department of Corrections facility.

Prior to the start of the conference, he sat in the courtroom hallway with his head buried in his hands and tears flowing down his cheeks.

At the settlement conference, Arrazola expressed his remorse, saying, "This is something I have to live with every day of my life."

Horrific collision

The accident occurred about 7:30 p.m. July 24 after Arrazola, of Phoenix, failed to yield to oncoming traffic at the intersection of the Bush and Beeline highways.

Arrazola's west bound SUV collided with a north bond vehicle driven by 39-year-old David Goddard of Payson.

Goddard's wife, Pernilla Pallin Goddard, 39, and stepson Simon Berglund 14, died at the scene of the accident.

William Goddard, 13, was transported to St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix where he died about 11:30 p.m.

Goddard and his daughter Alexandrea, 12, were transported to Maricopa Medical Center.

The two were treated for internal injuries before being released a day later.

A blood sample taken from Arrazola was .080 percent alcohol, or the exact legal minimum needed to charge a driver with driving impaired.

DPS officers said, however, the blood alcohol content (BAC) was probably much higher at the time of the accident. In the length of time it took to obtain a search warrant to draw blood from Arrazola -- three to four hours -- the alcohol concentration dropped significantly, they believed.

Arrazola was held in Maricopa County Jail from the time of the accident until Jan. 13 when he was able to post a $35,000 bond that had been lowered from $180,000.

Settlement conference

At Arrazola's settlement conference he expressed his desire to meet with the Goddards.

"We all make mistakes," he said. "I wish I could talk to the family. This has been real hard."

Reinstein told Arrazola he would probably have the opportunity to address Dave Goddard during next month's sentencing.

During the settlement conference, Reinstein advised Arrazola to accept the plea agreement because he virtually had no chance of winning a court trial.

"You'll be found guilty," he said. "And you could get more (prison) time than you would in the plea bargain."

Arrazola flinched each time the judge mentioned the possible length of sentence, saying, "I am a good person. I help people."

Reinstein responded, "You made a bad mistake. You are not a bad person.

"You seem to be a nice person, and you have a nice family. It was a tragic accident because of the drinking."

After more than an hour in the settlement conference, Reinstein and the others left but not before telling Arrazola and his lawyer that the plea bargain must be accepted within the next hour.

"We will withdraw it after that," county prosecutor Jennifer Green said.

Arrazola and his lawyer sequestered themselves until the final minute of the one-hour limit.

Finally, Green rose from her seat in the courtroom and said she was going to tell Arrazola the time to accept or reject had ended.

Minutes later, Reinstein reconvened the conference, saying Arrazola had asked to remain free for the weekend so he could explain the situation to his family.

Had the defendant accepted the plea during the conference he would have been immediately handcuffed and jailed.

Green agreed to the weekend delay but said, "We are not playing this game again."

Reinstein warned Arrazola that if he should flee to his native country during the weekend, his trial would go on without him.

Although some suspected the defendant might return to Mexico and not face trial, he returned Monday as required.

Dave Goddard said he will issue a statement following Arrazola's sentencing.

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