LAKE WORTH, Fla. -- Intermittent sniffles punctuated the courtroom on Thursday as a teary-eyed audience awaited the fate of a Lake Worth teen responsible for the deaths of two friends last year.
More than 40 people were present for Luis Betancourt's sentencing, including his relatives and friends and those of the victims, Vicente Huerta and Ubaldo Hernandez-Molina.
Betancourt, who earlier pleaded guilty, and 15 others addressed Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Joseph Marx.
"I can't think of any more tragic case," Marx said. "Nothing that I do today will bring them back."
Marx gave Betancourt, 19, 12 years in prison for each of two counts of DUI manslaughter and five years for one count of a DUI causing serious bodily injury but allowed Betancourt to serve the terms concurrently, which means he will spend a total of 12 years behind bars.
Marx also permanently revoked Betancourt's driver's license and required him to spend two years on probation, complete 100 hours of community service, and speak at schools at least once a month after his release.
Betancourt, then 17, got behind the wheel of his family's pickup truck shortly before 5 a.m. on Feb. 12, 2011, to drive friends home after he had been drinking, according to an arrest report from the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office.
Traveling at "a high rate of speed" on a wet road, Betancourt turned toward a sidewalk that he thought was Lake Worth Road, the report says. The Ford F-150 rotated counterclockwise and slid from the northbound lane into the southbound lane and then into the shoulder. There, it uprooted several fence posts before colliding with a large tree in the 3200 block of Lake Osborne Drive, just outside Lake Worth.
Betancourt and his friend in the passenger's seat, Johan Martinez-Garcia, escaped without injury, but Amando Nava-Flores was hospitalized and Huerta and Hernandez-Molina were pronounced dead on the scene, the report says.
"All the negative deeds I did in my past finally caught up with me on Feb. 12," said Betancourt, who told the courtroom he was introduced to alcohol and drugs at 15. "I would like to turn this accident into something good that would reach out to all my peers."
Betancourt, who had a learner's permit, was driving beyond his curfew. After the accident, he tested positive for marijuana, and his blood-alcohol level was 0.12 percent, the report says, just above the .08 legal limit.
"He has a good heart, but like any other person, he makes mistakes, and on the night of the accident, he made a bad decision," said Esperanza Betancourt of her son. "He told me on many different occasions that he is alive but his life doesn't mean anything anymore."
The mothers of Huerta and Hernandez-Molina were too emotional to speak and asked relatives to read letters on their behalf.
Huerta's mother, Dalia, said her three younger sons struggle to understand their brother's death.
"My 4-year-old son Angel asks, 'Mom, can we go to the funeral home to see Vicente?'" her letter read. "My [7-year-old] son, Jose, is afraid. He wants to sleep next to me every night."
Hernandez-Molina's mother, Emma, said she still has nightmares about the night of the accident.
"I don't know why God had to take him away from me," her letter read. "I felt heartbroken because I couldn't say [anymore ] 'I love you's'."