After hearing victim impact statements, Manuel Martinez Vasquez was sentenced to 19 years to life for the DUI-related murder of Sarah Villar. Photo by John Chadwell.
After hearing victim impact statements, Manuel Martinez Vasquez was sentenced to 19 years to life for the DUI-related murder of Sarah Villar. Photo by John Chadwell.

When Manuel Martinez Vasquez tried to back out of the plea agreement on Oct. 6 for the second-degree murder of Sarah Villar that was reached during an Aug. 11 hearing, District Attorney Candice Hooper called it “buyer’s remorse” and asked Judge Thomas Breen to honor the agreement and said there were no grounds to allow Vazquez to “withdraw his plea.”

After hearing emotional victim-impact statements in which Villar’s parents, her two brothers and her fiancé Tayler Schmitt begged Breen to give Vazquez life in prison, the judge stuck to the earlier agreement between the district attorney and Vazquez and sentenced him to 19 years to life for her murder.

There was an additional four-year sentence, to run concurrently, for running down Schmitt. Also, there were four misdemeanors, two of which were dismissed and two pled out to one year each that were added to the original sentence, also to run concurrently. According to Hooper, over a four-year period, Vasquez was arrested and released for eight alcohol-related incidents: four misdemeanors and four DUIs.

On June 20, 2021, while driving under the influence of alcohol and methamphetamine, according to Hooper, Vazquez was driving westbound on Sunnyslope Road, when he veered off the road, lost control, then careened across it where his car struck Villar and Schmitt as they were walking their dog. Hooper told Breen that when Vasquez was driving under the influence he was in “pending of a violation 647 (f) [public intoxication].” During court proceedings everything said was translated for Vasquez.

Before Breen passed the sentences, Villar’s parents, Monica and David, her two brothers Bryan and Brandon, and Schmitt gave impassioned victim-impact statements.

Monica said tearfully that the phone call she received on June 20 “altered my life forever. It was a call from my son that our daughter was killed by a drunk driver and questioned, why God would allow this to happen to a beautiful soul who did nothing but help others who was going to get married in less than two months to the love of her life.”

“As the days went by after this senseless crime, I had the task of picking up her [wedding] dress so she could be buried in her dress that she was so excited to wear,” she said. She said she had to call Sarah’s friends and said to the court, “How can any parent go through this? I wake up every single day wishing I could be with her.

“There was so much destruction to our family for what this killer did,” she said. “After the initial shock we were told about the guy who killed her. This was his fourth DUI in three years. How was there not strong punishment for the first, second and third DUI? Why did it take a fourth for him to be punished? How did the courts allow this guy to be on the streets? He knew once he put the key in the ignition that he was not in a position drive, yet he took my daughter’s life. No matter how long he gets he will have a life to pick back up again. Sarah will not.”

Schmitt said during his statement, “This devastating tragedy cannot be another drunk driving case that falls on deaf ears. The precious life that has been taken from me, our families, and the community needs to be heard and the fullest extent of the law must be taken.”

Schmitt said Villar played an important role in the community by helping special-needs children.

“She gave back to Hollister by growing her caseload here,” he said. “She gained a reputation of being the best pediatric physical therapist in the Bay Area. Children were on a waitlist to see her.”

He said after dinner that Sunday as they were walking along Sunnyslope Road they were laughing, discussing wedding plans, and calling loved ones to wish them happy Fathers Day.

“I had no idea that would be the last meal we would enjoy together,” he said. “We had a routine and were on a route we thought was safe. No one is safe around someone who is operating a vehicle while intoxicated. The night I came home from the hospital I had never felt so alone. This is a feeling I’m still unable to describe.”

He continued: “I firmly believe that a life sentence needs to be carried forward. There isn’t a price or enough debt to pay to society for what he has done.”

Her brothers spoke of their loss and heartbreak. Bryan said her loss was not only felt by the family but the community because of her work with children she referred to as her “kiddos.” Brandon described her as “the most selfless person you would ever meet who always wanted to make sure those around her were taken care of.”

“My sister dedicated her life to children and easing their suffering,” he said. “She knew she could make the quality of life better for those children and bring the families some joy. All my sister did was care for other people’s children but now she’s gone due to the act of a person who only cared about himself.”

David Villar said not one day in the last 15 months has passed without thoughts of Sarah. He said he has an empty space in his soul that will remain for the rest of his life.

“Sarah’s life was to work with families who were told there was no hope for their children to have a semblance of a normal life,” he said. “With her healing hands she helped many walk and crawl when walking and crawling was something they were told was not possible. The tragedy is she will never be able to help those children as her life was cut short by so senseless an act.”

He went on to say: “Due to his incarceration this past year it’s the first time in five years Mr. Martinez has not had an alcohol-related charge or arrest. If he had been incarcerated even for a year after his third offense Sarah would be with us today. Think about the number of times Mr. Martinez got behind the wheel of a car while impaired. Think about the number of children, mothers, fathers or grandparents he drove by who are lucky today because he didn’t drive off the road and end their lives.”

He described Vasquez as a “ticking time bomb lurking around this community and it was only a matter of time before someone lost their life.”

All the while the family and Schmitt gave their impact statements Vasquez sat slumped in his chair, listening to the interpreter. His own attorney kept his back to him. Judge Breen allowed him to speak. Using the court-appointed interpreter, he said he hoped the family, the fiancé, who he referred to as the husband or spouse, and the community would “pardon” him.

“By the means of this letter, with my heart in my hand I want to ask a pardon from the family who I did so much damage to,” the interpreter translated, adding that he said he doesn’t sleep and is always thinking about the accident at night. “I’m tormented by the pain I’ve caused the husband of the victim. I don’t justify my error. My feelings and person are destroyed.”

He continued that he wasn’t aware of what he was doing that day.

“I just want to say I’m the father of two daughters and I don’t want to even think about if one day they lose their mother or me,” he said. “It hurts me to know that I am a bad example as a father. I feel remorse. I’m not a bad person. I have serious problems with alcohol and drugs. I pray to the family and the young spouse that one day you will pardon me, and that God will pardon me. My heart speaks with sincerity and repentance.”

 Related BenitoLink stories:

Manuel Martinez Vazquez pleads guilty to second-degree murder | BenitoLink

Court continues hearing for driver facing murder charges | BenitoLink



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John Chadwell worked as a feature, news and investigative reporter for BenitoLink on a freelance basis for seven years, leaving the role in Sept. 2023. Chadwell first entered the U.S. Navy right out of...