ST. GEORGE — The man who was arrested following a hit-and-run crash that left one pedestrian dead on Red Cliffs Drive in Washington City appeared for sentencing last week.

Red Toyota Rav4 sustains damage during auto-pedestrian crash that left one dead, while the driver 20-year-old Joe Hernandez, is facing charges, Washington City, Utah, April 6, 2023 | Photo courtesy of the Washington City Police Department, St. George News

On Jan. 31, Joe Emanuel Hernandez, 21, of West Valley, appeared in 5th District Court for sentencing on two third-degree felony charges: one count of accident involving death and filing a false insurance claim. He was also sentenced on one misdemeanor count each of obstruction of justice, negligent homicide and driving on a suspended license. 

A fatal crash

On the night of April 6, 2023, emergency dispatch received a call that an injured man was lying in the roadway near 1050 West and Red Cliffs Drive, as previously reported by St. George News. Several motorists were rendering aid to the man when officers and emergency personnel arrived. Despite life-saving efforts, the victim, Miguel Redshirt, succumbed to his injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene

Redshirt was reportedly dressed in dark clothing and had started to cross the street when he was struck by an SUV. The driver of the SUV then fled the scene.

At the time, Washington City Police Chief Jason Williams told St. George News that Hernandez was identified as the driver one week after the crash, and a no-bail warrant was issued for his arrest.

A search for Hernandez continued for more than a week and ended with his arrest. After being booked into Salt Lake County Jail, he was then transported to Washington County to face the charges.

Stipulated agreement 

Following a series of hearings, bench conferences and negotiations between both sides, in early January, a stipulated agreement was reached. District Judge Eric Gentry presided over the sentencing hearing held last week. Prosecutor Zachary Weiland represented the state, while defense attorney Ryan Stout represented the defendant.

Weiland said that after consulting with the victim’s family and considering several factors that Hernandez had little or no control over, the state recommended that Hernandez serve one year in jail and that the 0-5 year prison term be suspended. He asked the court for the maximum fines and penalties on the misdemeanor charges to only be imposed if the defendant violates any of the terms of his probation. 

“We’re also asking for a zero-tolerance probation,” Weiland said.

‘I just want you to know about my little brother’

One of the victim’s siblings addressed the defendant as “Joe,” and said, “I just want you to know about my little brother who was born March 31,” adding that, unlike the defendant, she will never have the opportunity to see her little brother again, while Hernandez will get to be with his family once he is released from jail.

She said the victim was a father to three children, all of whom were present in the courtroom and who have been left to live a life without their father.

“Because you took that,” she said. 

She said she hoped Hernandez would turn his life around, “but if you don’t, I will be sitting right there asking for the maximum.”

A ‘tragic event’ at its core 

Stout said his client is very remorseful, which was evident during one of the first interviews Hernandez had with police when his client cried and apologized for what had happened.

“And the other thing I want to say to the court and to all those that are listening is that Mr. Hernandez has felt extreme remorse about this the entire time,” Stout said. “The tragic event that took place that night, at its core, was an accident.”

The attorney added that his client has written several letters to the victim’s family that he has kept with him, including one the defendant requested to read during the hearing. 

Hernandez described the last nine months in jail as “very hard on my soul every day,” and not because he was locked up and away from his family, he said, but because a life was lost — the life of someone who has a wife, children and a family that loves him.

He said if he could turn back time, he would, so he never would have been there that night. He went on to say he was not a killer or a monster — but a human who made a mistake. 

2 sides, 1 ruling  

The judge said these cases are some of the most difficult ones that come through his courtroom. He said the family’s pain came through when the sister of the victim addressed the court and served as a reminder there are several lives involved.

“Sometimes as attorneys and judges, we just see things on paper and we forget that these are actual people we’re dealing with,” Gentry said. “And I cannot imagine the pain the entire family is still enduring.”

The judge said there were both aggravating and mitigating circumstances present in the case, one of which was that nothing indicated Hernandez intended to kill the victim. Instead, the judge called the crash “an awful horrible, unintentional accident.”

Booking photo of Joe Emanuel Hernandez, 21, of West Valley, who was sentenced in the death of a pedestrian in Washington City on April 6, 2023, Hurricane, Utah, circa April 2023 | Photo courtesy of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, St. George News

But that doesn’t mean the effect on the family is any less — they still lost someone — regardless of whether it was intentional, he added.

It was the fact that Hernandez fled after the incident that was troubling the court, Gentry said. Had the defendant remained at the scene, it likely would have gone a long way in the healing process. But by running, the judge said, the defendant not only compounded the charges filed against him but also increased the amount of trauma the family endured. 

Ultimately, the judge said he would follow the stipulated sentence between the parties. He sentenced Hernandez to serve one year in jail in Washington County with credit for time served, followed by three years probation once he is released under the supervision of Adult Probation and Parole.

“This is a zero-tolerance probation,” the judge said to Hernandez, meaning any violations could send him to prison.

With credit for the nearly 10 months the defendant has already served, Hernandez is expected to be released at the end of April. The two prison terms of 0-5 years, along with the jail terms on the remaining charges, were suspended in the case.

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