SANTA ANA, Calif. (CNS) -- A former addiction care center employee who was driving under the influence of various drugs when he fatally struck a Costa Mesa firefighter bicycling on a Mission Viejo sidewalk was sentenced today to 15 years to life in prison.
Stephen Taylor Scarpa, 28, was convicted in September of second-degree murder in the death of fire Capt. Mike Kreza.
During trial, Senior Deputy District Attorney Dan Feldman told jurors Scarpa was "loaded'' on various drugs when he left a party in Westminster on Nov. 3, 2018, to drive home.
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Scarpa wound up striking Kreza, 44, who was bicycling on Alicia Parkway near Via Burgos around 8 a.m. that day.
Kreza's wife, three daughters and sister made emotional statements to Orange County Superior Court Judge Patrick Donahue at sentencing.
The fire captain's eldest daughter, Kaylie, 14, said, "My dad was the nicest, happiest you would ever meet ... Everyone thought he was their best friend because he treated everyone equally.''
The daughters all referred to Kreza as their "best friend'' and recalled the daddy-daughter dates they would have to get ice cream or attend a school dance.
Kaylie described how difficult it has been on her to act as a co-parent to her younger siblings now that her father is gone.
Before Kreza died, he gave her his "beloved teddy'' bear, and now she said, "I can't sleep without him.''
"I miss how he would opera sing with me. He was so funny,'' another daughter, 12-year-old Layla, said.
Another daughter, Audrey, 10, said, "I still sleep in my daddy's shirt to feel close to him ... I miss my daddy making me the best tacos.''
Layla recalled how she was at her soccer game when her mother suddenly decided they had to run to the hospital to check on their dad.
Kreza's wife, Shanna, said when he did not respond to her calls and messages, they used a "find your phone'' app and saw he was at a hospital, where she initially assumed he was because he had rescued someone.
Then, Shanna said, she had a terrible sense of foreboding and rushed her daughters into the car and raced to the hospital.
"I ran so many red lights to get to the hospital and my daughters begged me to slow down,'' she said.
"When I arrived and saw the hallway scene it was like something out of a movie. I was there, but was out of body,'' she said.
She described how her husband died in her arms.
"Mike held on for two days,'' she said. "I know he did that for me. To give me those moments to say goodbye. It was the last time cuddling my husband.''
She said there was a moment of peace and she could hear his heartbeat, and then his organs began failing, prompting a chaos of nurses and physicians responding to the emergency.
She recalled the "screams'' from her daughters as she went home, sat them down on the couch and gave them the terrible news.
Kreza's sister, Rachel, also referred to the victim as her "best friend growing up.''
They grew up in Irvine, and he was an "extremely talented'' athlete, "even at a young age.''
Kreza was excited to become an uncle when she got pregnant.
"He was with me every step of the way,'' Rachel Kreza said.
Feldman said the defendant had ingested methamphetamine, fentanyl and "undefined downers'' before the deadly collision.
"He'd been up for days,'' Feldman said at trial. "'Loaded' is the term he used in interviews (with police).''
Scarpa drove off the road and onto the sidewalk, where the van crashed into Kreza, putting a hole in the vehicle's windshield and crushing the victim's bicycle, Feldman said.
Kreza sustained skull and leg fractures and was taken to an area hospital, where "he hung on for two days before he died,'' Feldman said.
"That's why he's here,'' Feldman said of the defendant. "His choices, his disregard for other people and his actions.''
Scarpa's attorney, Rudy Loewenstein, argued the crash was a "tragic accident.'' He said there was no evidence that his client was driving erratically before the collision.
At sentencing, Loewenstein said his client "never intended to kill anyone, especially Mike Kreza ... He obviously feels terrible. Bad choices made by Mr. Scarpa led to bad consequences ... It's a story of a tragedy of an addiction to drugs.''
In his opening statement of the trial, the defense attorney said, "He thought he could make it, he thought he was OK to drive down to Mission Viejo to his grandparents' house, where he lived.''
Loewenstein added, "What happened, happened in a split second in time ... He fell asleep for a fraction of a second,'' which led to a "perfect storm of events.''
Scarpa regained control of the van after striking the bicyclist and then parked it "snugly'' against the curb and walked back to the victim, where he met and cooperated with deputies, Loewenstein said.
Jurors only had a choice between second-degree murder and acquittal and were not allowed to consider gross vehicular manslaughter.
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer issued a statement after sentencing.
"Mike Kreza's wife and his three young daughters have to live every day with the pain of his loss, and the pain they bravely expressed during their victim impact statements should haunt the defendant forever. Nothing will bring Mike back, but I can only hope that his story -- and the pain his family has to live with every day -- prevents someone from making the same deadly decision to get behind the wheel while drunk or high on drugs.''
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