Driver Who Severed Arm of Lava Man's Groom Gets 5 Years

The drunken driver who caused a crash that severed the arm of a groom for Lava Man, the richest claiming horse in Thoroughbred racing history, was sentenced Oct. 4 to five years in state prison.

Heriberto Castillo pleaded guilty in September to driving under the influence of alcohol and causing injury (deemed great bodily injury) to 39-year-old groom Noe Garcia.

The crash occurred on Interstate 5 near Del Mar racetrack in the early morning of July 23,  when Garcia was on his way to work.

"The injury (the defendant) caused me and my family is great,'' Garcia told Vista Superior Court Judge K. Michael Kirkman through a Spanish interpreter. "Because of that I lost my job. I lost my arm. I am not well physically or psychologically. My children and my wife are greatly affected by this.''

Prosecutor Rick Watson told the judge it "was one of the worst cases'' of drunken driving that one could imagine.

The 24-year-old Castillo had a blood-alcohol level of 0.19% when tested after his arrest, Watson said. The legal limit is 0.08%.

Castillo, who lived in Oceanside and worked in a cafe in Vista, had been in the United States illegally for about five years, according to a report filed by the county probation department. He also had a bag of marijuana with him and was driving without a license, the report stated.

Also speaking through a Spanish interpreter, Castillo asked for forgiveness from Garcia and his family. "I understand that he has suffered tremendous pain,'' said Castillo, who had no prior criminal record.

Garcia, who had cared for Lava Man for three years, needed a prosthetic arm but was unable to afford it, the prosecutor said. A poker tournament held in August raised $120,000 (less expenses) to help pay for the arm and rehabilitation for Garcia, who is married with four children.

Garcia oversaw preparations as Lava Man won three straight Hollywood Gold Cups (gr. I), two consecutive Santa Anita Handicaps (gr. I) and the 2006 Pacific Classic (gr. I). He also groomed Sky Jack, another Gold Cup winner, during 11 years with trainer Doug O'Neill.

O'Neill said Garcia continues to make progress in his rehabilitation. "He comes by the barn a couple of days a week," O'Neill said. "I think it's therapeutic for him -- and therapeutic for us -- to have him still be very much involved.

"We're hoping to have him back for Del Mar next year and back grooming," he added. "(His absence) is definitely a huge loss for us right now, but just him coming around, he's very inspirational and he's got a great attitude."

Lava Man finished sixth in this year's Pacific Classic at Del Mar a couple weeks after Garcia was injured. The 6-year-old gelding has earned more than $5.2 million in his career. He was claimed by O'Neill for owners S T D Racing Stable and Jason Wood in 2004.

Correspondent Debbie Arrington contributed to this story.

Most Popular Stories