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Sparks man sentenced to 40 years in prison for fatal DUI crash that killed two

Mario Cortez.png

A 35-year-old Sparks man was sentenced to 40 years in prison for a DUI crash that killed an elderly couple in April 2016, according to the Washoe County District Attorney's office.

Mario S. Cortez was sentenced on March 2 to 40 years in prison by Judge Patrick Flanagan on two counts of driving under the influence of alcohol, a prohibited substance and/or combination of alcohol and a controlled substance, resulting in death of another. The sentence, which included consecutive 20 year terms for each count, ensures that Cortez will serve a minimum of 16 years in prison before becoming eligible for parole.

Blood testing completed after the crash showed that the Cortez had five times the legal limit of marijuana in his system and a blood alcohol level of .202, which is over twice the legal limit. Cortez pled guilty last year and was sentenced to two consecutive 20 year prison terms, the maximum sentences.

On April 23, 2016, the Nevada Highway Patrol responded to a major injury accident involving two vehicles on Pyramid Highway, in which the driver, who was later identified as Cortez, had fled the scene. The two victims in the other vehicle later died as a result of injuries sustained in the crash and Cortez was ultimately located hiding in a nearby parking lot. When questioned, he admitted to troopers he had been celebrating his birthday earlier in the day by playing golf and drinking five shots and five beers at a local bar. A blood draw conducted a little over two hours after the collision showed Cortez’s blood alcohol level at .202. A subsequent laboratory test determined Cortez also had five times the legal limit for active marijuana components in his system at 11 nanograms per milliliter. NHP’s investigation determined that Cortez drove through a red light at Pyramid Highway and Los Altos before speeding southbound and crashing into the rear of the victim vehicle. Cortez’s speed was estimated at a minimum of 88-92 miles per hour before he applied the brakes and was further estimated to have hit the victims’ vehicle at a minimum of 72-77 mph. Cortez was not wearing a seatbelt at the time and his head struck the windshield causing it to shatter. He sustained minor injuries in the crash and was treated at a local hospital before being released and arrested by NHP.

At sentencing, Deputy District Attorney Kevin Naughton argued that the defendant’s actions were selfish and the tragedy was preventable. Cortez’s decision not to get a sober ride home wound up costing the lives of two beloved people who were pillars of their communities, both in Nevada and in the Philippines. The victims, Mario and Erlinda Guansing, both in their 70s, and had planned to retire in a few months to spend time with family in Canada and the Philippines. They had moved to the United States 12 years previously, after retiring from jobs in electrical engineering and banking. The Guansings continued to work in the United States so they could support family and friends pursing higher education and to send money back to their church in the Philippines.

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