WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A Palm Beach County judge has rejected a plea deal for the teenager accused of stealing a vehicle and causing a fiery crash that killed four people on the Beeline Highway last year.
Judge Howard Coates Jr. rejected the state's plea offer that would have sent Christopher Garrett Jr. to prison for 10 years.
During Thursday's plea hearing, Coates was presented with a proposal that would have resulted in a 10-year sentence for Garrett, now 18.
But after listening to testimony from family members of the victims, Coates said he "thought 10 years was light" and questioned how such a plea offer came about in the first place.
"I'm having a real difficult time getting past the hurdle that 10 years is an appropriate sentence here," Coates said.
WATCH: Judge rejects plea offer
According to a Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office report, Garrett stole a 2019 Nissan Rogue from Rapids Water Park on July 30 and sped north on the Beeline Highway when it slammed into a Nissan Xtera traveling west at PGA Boulevard.
Two teenage girls riding with Garrett were killed, as were two people in the other vehicle.
One of the victims in the Xtera was Elizabeth Anderson, a longtime Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office employee and the mother of WPTV assistant chief engineer Tom Anderson.
Investigators said Garrett was speeding and driving without a license while under the influence of marijuana.
Garrett, who was 17 at the time, was charged with vehicular homicide, DUI manslaughter, driving without a license causing serious injury or death and grand theft auto.
In court, the families of the victims shared their feelings about the suspect and the sentence.
"When you get out in just 10 short years and you're still young, teach others like yourself to be better than what they came from," Anderson's daughter, Heather Richards, said in court. "There's a way to stop the cycle. Make a difference. Just be a better human, because God knows you took two of the best ones out of this world."
Her family's testimony, coupled with the words from a sobbing younger brother of another victim, was enough to give Coates pause when it came time to decide Garrett's fate.
"This is not satisfactory to me," he said.
Assistant state attorney Amy Berkman tried to explain the mitigating factors that led to the proposal, but it didn't sway Coates, who sent her and assistant public defender Jaclyn Isaacs back to either work out a new deal or prepare for trial.
"This doesn't get it done for me, not with the number of deaths and not with the number of families that were forever impacted by this," Coates said.