Tabatha Worthington's family feels the daily pain of losing the young mother of three in a January car crash, but in a tearful statement to a Lucas County Common Pleas judge, they expressed forgiveness to the driver and asked that he not be sent to jail.
"It's my family's belief that regardless of what happened that night, it was Tabby's time to go," elder sister Samantha Yerg told Judge Linda Jennings Thursday. "She was one of a kind. But Bruce [Ponce] is not a murderer. This was an accident."
Ponce, 36, of 678 Bowman St. has pleaded no contest to aggravated vehicular homicide for causing the Jan. 21 crash on the Anthony Wayne Trail that killed Ms. Worthington, his front-seat passenger.
He was sentenced Thursday to five years community control, including six months in the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio, followed by six months at the Correctional Treatment Facility. His driver's license was also suspended for four years.
"Bruce is a really good man," Ms. Yerg said after the sentencing. "We don't believe, our family doesn't believe that Tabby was a victim. Instead, we believe she got an early reward of heaven."
Authorities said Ponce was outbound on the Trail at 10:24 a.m. when, likely because of slick conditions, the vehicle went out of control at Western Avenue, jumped a curb into the median, and crashed into a traffic-signal pole that penetrated the passenger side of the car's cabin.
Ms. Worthington, 35, was pronounced dead at the scene.
Ms. Yerg said Ponce and her sister were good friends, and he was simply giving her a ride.
An emotional Ponce had difficulty speaking in court and asked Judge Jennings to consider what he had written in a letter to her. His attorney said Ponce has undergone alcohol and psychological treatment since the crash.
Judge Jennings acknowledged the forgiveness of Ms. Worthington's family and Ponce's remorse. But she said that ultimately Ms. Worthington's death was the result of his decision to drive when he knew he shouldn't.
"I don't believe this was an accident, because you intentionally got behind the wheel of a car after a night of drinking and doing cocaine," she said. "This was a deadly combination, a deadly combination. And that is exactly what it turned out to be."
Ms. Yerg said after the sentencing that she felt bad that Ponce would spend some time in jail. She said that had her sister lived, she would have been the first one to rally around Ponce during this time.
"This has been hard on so many people," she said of both her family and that of Ponce. "We're taking one day at a time and learning to cope. Tabby will not just be photos on a shelf. We talk about her every day."