Man gets 7-20 years for DUI in Utah runner's death

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LAS VEGAS (AP) -- A Nevada man was sentenced Monday to seven to 20 years in state prison after pleading guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol when he hit and killed a relay race runner from Utah in October.

Joshua Vincent Salayich, 26, wept as he sought leniency from Clark County District Court Judge David Barker, who also heard sobbing family members describe their pain as they sought a long sentence for Salayich in the death of Jeremy Kunz, 33.

He did not get leniency.

"Jeremy's death was entirely avoidable," said Melinda Kunz, the wife of the father of three who was described as an energetic and active family breadwinner, youth leader and member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in his hometown of Kamas, Utah.

"My children will not be able to feel their daddy's arms around them," Melinda said. "I had to explain to them back in October what drunk driving was, and that was hard. How do you explain that to a 7- and a 5- and a 2-year-old? It's impossible."

Melinda told the judge she forgives Salayich but still wanted him punished.

"I want the consequences of his actions to be fully applied to him," she said. "His actions and their consequences have been fully applied to me. Mercy cannot rob justice."

Now, the family hopes their loss serves as a reminder not to drink and drive.

I want the consequences of his actions to be fully applied to him. His actions and their consequences have been fully applied to me. Mercy cannot rob justice.

–Melinda Kunz, wife of killed runner Jeremy Kunz

Kunz was taking part in a stage of a 180-mile Ragnar Relay run from Valley of Fire State Park to the Red Rock Resort when he was struck and killed on Oct. 10 in Henderson. Another runner told police he jumped out of the way of a speeding 2005 Nissan Altima, but the vehicle struck Kunz about 4:30 a.m.

The witness said the car rolled over in a plume of dust in a desert lot and came to rest on its wheels before the driver got out, took items from the vehicle and walked away -- asking the witness not to call the police.

Prosecutor Eric Bauman told the judge Monday that Salayich's blood-alcohol level was 0.26 percent after the crash, more than three times the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

Salayich pleaded guilty in January to felony DUI causing death as part of a plea deal that had prosecutors drop a felony charge of leaving the scene of the crash not far from his home in Henderson.

"There are no words to say how sorry I am for this," Salayich told the judge. "All it takes is one horrible decision ... for the rest of your life you'll have to live with that."

Melinda feels for Salayich, but at the same time believes he should pay the consequences for his actions.

"Of course we are heartbroken for Joshua, for the choice he made," she said. "He chose to get in his car after he had been drinking and that should never ever be a choice for anybody."

Barker imposed a slightly harsher sentence than the six to 20 years recommended by state parole and probation officials.

He cited police reports that Salayich resisted officers who arrested him, denied he was the driver and was in possession of marijuana when he crashed.

"There are no winners in this situation," the judge said. "But there must be accountability."

Melinda says the sentence is some sort of justice for her family.

"If another family never has to go through this again then it will help repay in just a small part what's happened to us," she said. "There's nothing could make it right. There's no way to make it."


Story compiled with contributions from the Associated Press and Nicole Gonzales.

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