BELTON — A former pizza driver who left a 16-year-old Belton girl to die in a road after hitting her with a car was sentenced Monday to 12 years in prison.
Juan DeLeon, 22, was sentenced this week after failing to appear in court in September in connection with the death of Rachael Westberg of Belton. The sentencing took place in the Bell County 426th District Court with Judge Fancy Jezek presiding.
DeLeon could have been sentenced to not more than 20 years or less than two years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, according to the Texas Penal Code.
DeLeon’s defense attorney, James Kreimeyer, briefly argued for a treatment program and medication for his client — who he said was bipolar.
Kreimeyer said DeLeon made a serious mistake by not calling 911, and said Belton Police Detective Robert Prestin testified he saw no signs of any kind of intoxicants later that night. Kreimeyer also argued DeLeon only had Class B misdemeanor marijuana charge that he will be sentenced for today, and the prosecution’s text messages produced as evidence didn’t show DeLeon was a heavy drug user.
Rachael — a sophomore at Belton New Tech High School @Waskow — was jogging Jan. 20, 2018, when DeLeon, making deliveries for Domino’s Pizza in Belton, struck her with his vehicle in the 800 block of North Industrial Park Road.
DeLeon admitted to Belton Police Department investigators that he got out of his vehicle, saw that she needed medical help, got back in his vehicle, dialed 911 but left without making the call for help.
Testimony and business records proved DeLeon delivered two pizzas after he struck Rachael and was about to deliver a third when Belton Police arrived at Domino’s to search for a vehicle with damage. DeLeon left his Domino’s cap at the scene near where Rachael was located.
DeLeon said the damaged windshield on his Saturn was caused by hitting a deer, then later admitted to police that he hit a girl and left her in the road.
A child passenger in another car sighted someone down near the road, prompting a 911 call.
Help arrived about 25 minutes after Rachael was struck. Rachael was hospitalized, alive but in critical condition, with multiple skull fractures and a severe traumatic brain injury. She was declared legally brain dead on Jan. 25 and was kept on life support until her organs could be harvested for donation.
DeLeon was released in January from the jail after he posted a $75,000 bail. His bond was increased to $100,000 after he was arrested again in September on a warrant.
A bench warrant was issued for DeLeon’s arrest after he failed to appear in court. Belton Police officers, with assistance from the Bell County Sheriff’s Department, began an urgent search for DeLeon. During the search process, DeLeon ran away from Belton Police officers, but was later found by deputies at his residence in the 3200 block of Beaver Circle.
When Rachael’s family walked into the courtroom at about 2:13 p.m., it was clear Kristi Westberg — her mother — had already been crying.
The hearing began with information from a Temple Fire & Rescue investigation that DeLeon previously admitted to starting a fire at Western Finance. DeLeon’s written statement said he set the fire because the Internet and phone lines were too slow, and he hoped setting a fire would force the business to fix it sooner. However, no charge was ever filed in this case.
Bail bondsman Dale Hammerschmidt said his office has a system that notifies offenders of their court dates and when their payments are due. DeLeon was notified the day before he skipping his hearing that he was expected in court.
DeLeon was the subject of a suicidal person call June 25. He told his family he was going to drive his car over the Belton Dam because he couldn’t make his bond payment. A mental health deputy ordered an emergency order of detention for DeLeon, and he went to the hospital for treatment, Jonathan Christian of Temple Fire & Rescue said.
Belton Police Detective Robert Prestin talked about the investigation that began with the 911 phone call. During Prestin’s testimony, DeLeon put his head on his desk.
A look at DeLeon’s cellphone revealed many text messages that discussed finding and using drugs like Xanax, Ecstasy, Molly — a halucinogen — and marijuana. Some of the texts were from the day before Rachael was struck and killed. Other messages indicated he agreed to meet someone after work. The texts were at about the time DeLeon hit Rachael.
Kreimeyer pointed out that none of the texts indicated DeLeon took drugs during the accident’s timeframe.
Two of Rachael’s siblings gave impact statements in a video that was admitted to the court record.
Erika Pearce of Winston-Salem, N.C., and her brother, Brodi Amos of Austin, talked about how Rachael’s death has affected their lives.
Pearce, after almost a year, said she still can’t cope with her sister’s death. She said she’s depressed, exhausted and doesn’t enjoy things anymore. She went to a doctor in November and is trying to get better.
“(Rachael’s) heart was bigger than mine,” Pearce said. “She brought so much joy to our family.”
Amos said everyone makes mistakes, but DeLeon needed to be held accountable.
“I can’t understand how you could just leave here there helpless and dying on the side of the road and not call 911,” Amos said. He further commented that behavior seemed “completely malicious” to him.
Rachael’s death brought the family together for a little while, but her death left such a huge hole in that family, Amos said.
“I hope Juan understands what his decisions cost us,” he said.
Rachael’s mother took the stand to make her statement and looked straight at DeLeon as she talked and sobbed.
Westberg talked about the things Rachael loved to do — sing, exercise, ride her bicycle and take care of struggling people because of her compassion, encouraging nature.
Rachael was jogging to Walmart to get ice cream for her sister, Heather Westberg, the night she died. Heather Westberg had undergone surgery and her jaw was wired shut. Rachael wanted to make her sister a shake.
Westberg’s husband died in July 2018 — seven years after a motorcycle accident left him with a brain injury. Doctors said his condition was hopeless, but his wife begged the doctors to give him another day. He woke up and, over time, recovered and had a functional life.
When she got the call about Rachael, Westberg thought, “I’ve been here before. She’s going to be alright.”
So she prayed and hoped Rachael would come out of it, but the doctors said there was a 72-hour waiting period to see if she’d recover. She argued with the residents and nurses for one extra day, but no one told the neurosurgeon who would decide if Rachael would be taken off the ventilator, Westberg said.
The staff took Rachael off the ventilator, declared her dead and then put her back on the ventilator to keep her organs viable, Westberg said. She still feels like they called her death too soon.
Westberg told DeLeon how it felt to buy a dress for a funeral instead of for Rachael’s first prom, and a casket in which to buy her.
Impact of the tragedy
Finally, DeLeon had no car insurance because it lapsed three days before Rachael was struck. Victim’s assistance didn’t cover all of the funeral expenses, so now Rachael has only a metal plate instead of a headstone to mark her grave.
The family had to move because they couldn’t afford their home anymore. Westberg worked two jobs before Rachael was hospitalized, but she had to quit them after that. Her children had to quit their jobs, and the family had no income. Rachael’s brother had to drop out of college.
During Westberg’s testimony — and most of the three hours in the courtroom — DeLeon stared at her intently but showed no apparent signs of remorse for what he did.
Rachael’s death and how she died haunts Westberg every day, she told DeLeon. She feels lost and unstable now and doesn’t know how to “get through this,” she said.
“It haunts me every day that the last thing Rachael saw was the person who hit her and walked away,” Westberg said. “How she felt to need help and there was none.”