A Bluffton man was sentenced to 15 years in prison Tuesday after pleading guilty to charges involving a hit-and-run crash that killed a 2-year-old girl on Hilton Head Island.
Ildefonso Adame, 43, started drinking at about 10 a.m. on Oct. 3 and had a blood-alcohol level of .17 -- twice the legal limit -- when he struck a Ford Explorer at about 5 p.m. on William Hilton Parkway, according to testimony. Adame was driving a Toyota Camry near Pineland Station when he crashed into the vehicle carrying two women, two girls and a boy. Abril Suarez of Hardeeville died. Her brother, Jesus Suarez, 4, was seriously injured.
Dolores Mora, 52, of Hardeeville and her 7-year-old granddaughter, who were also in the Explorer, were not seriously injured.
Adame's trial on charges of felony hit-and-run causing death and felony driving under the influence was to begin Tuesday, when he took the advice of public defender Helen Roper and pleaded guilty. He could have been sentenced to up to 25 years for each count.
"We are all human beings and we make errors, and I know I have committed a very serious error," Adame told Circuit Court Judge Craig Brown before sentencing. "I ask for forgiveness of the family and the judge for the crimes I have committed."
Abril's mother, Irma Corona, now pregnant, gave pictures of her children to Brown.
"I just want there to be justice. I just want him to respond," she said through an interpreter. "He didn't even take the time to see how my children were doing after my family was hurt."
Duffie Stone, 14th Judicial Circuit Court solicitor, said Adame and two friends started drinking about 10 a.m. while working on Adame's car at his home in Bluffton that day. The three went to a Hilton Head bar at about noon, where they ran up a $200 bar tab. They returned to Adame's house, drank more and were headed to another bar when Adame began to drive erratically, according to witnesses. Adame's passengers told authorities they asked to be let out of the car moments before the crash, Stone said.
"When the defendant's car struck the SUV, instead of stopping, it actually increased its speed," Stone said. "The force flipped the SUV, the children were ejected, and the SUV lands on the 2-year-old, killing her. If not for motorists stopping and grabbing the 4-year-old, the SUV would have injured that child."
The Corona-Suarez family was on their way to a wedding shower.
After the crash, Adame's car stalled. He restarted it and drove away. His friends, who were still in the car, told authorities they asked him to stop. He did so a few miles away to check the damage to the car, and they ran, according to Stone.
Meanwhile, a motorist and his passenger followed the Toyota for about five miles and provided a description of the driver and his vehicle to officers, Stone said. Adame was arrested soon after.
"Had it not been for the citizens of Hilton Head who stopped to administer aid and then follow Adame, I don't know if he would have ever faced justice," Stone said.
The Suarez children were thrown from the Explorer even though all were strapped into child safety seats or wearing seat belts, according to Cpl. Paul Brouthers, S.C. Highway Patrol spokesman.
Before sentencing, Roper told the judge that Adame had struggled with alcoholism but was a hard worker and has "a good heart and a strong family." He has been a construction and lawn-care worker in the United States for 11 years.
"The man who is in front of you is not the same person who caused the loss and damage that occurred that day," Roper said.
Brown said he hoped Adame's sentence would serve as a deterrent for others.
"It is admirable that you have worked all your life. But my grandfather used to tell me that it used to take a lifetime to build a reputation, but you can destroy it in a manner of minutes," the judge said. "You made a choice that day that will forever impact the lives of many people."
Stone said he does not know Adame's immigration status. Brown said he will serve his sentence in South Carolina before being turned over to immigration authorities.