Nearly a year to the day after Stephen Eugene Galiher crashed into a car on the 73 Freeway while driving over 85 miles per hour three times over the legal drinking limit on his way to the Costa Mesa headquarters of the Trinity Broadcasting Company that employed him–nearly a year to the day after the wreck severely injured Vietnam War veteran David Rhodes and left him in such a diminished physical state that he passed away six months later–nearly a year to that day, Galiher was finally sentenced by an Orange County judge for his crime.
The time? Five years probation, pay restitution, and stay away from alcohol during the duration of the probation.
Who says you can't drive blitzed, destroy a family, and get away with it in tough-on-crime OC?
Galiher–wearing a natty pinstriped blue suit, ankle-high shoes, trendy glasses, with sunglasses in his left breast jacket pocket but not the blond streaks that once decorated his hair or goatee he once sculpted on his face–walked into a Harbor Justice Center courtroom at 1:30 this afternoon flanked by two attorneys. The family of Rhodes–his wife, who survived the crash but is still undergoing physical therapy, and son Tom–followed, sitting on the other side of the courtroom, accompanied by senior deputy district attorney Dan Hess. After about 20 minutes in the judge's chambers, the attorneys for the both sides emerged, and Commissioner James Odriozola ordered court in session.
Both Rhodes' wife, Julicort, and his son Tom addressed the court. Fighting back tears, Julicort told Commissioner Odriozola how she and her husband were planning to “make our dreams together” but that her life and that of their young children was now “shattered into pieces.” Tom Rhodes began his remarks by holding out graphic pictures of his bedridden father–who suffered four broken ribs, a broken arm and leg, and had to get pins put in his vertebrae–so that Galiher could see the damage he had wrought. Standing behind a lectern that he repositioned so he could directly address Galiher, Rhodes also read a letter by his cancer-stricken sister, who was too ill to appear.
He spared Galiher nothing, mocking his former standing as one of TBN's stars, the head pastor at the world's largest televangelical network's Music City theme park just outside Nashville. “Would Jesus have gotten obliteratedly drunk?” Rhodes trembled, choking back tears. “Would Jesus have stayed in the car and not help the people he crashed into?” Galiher looked on silently and occasionally sniffling.
“You discredited your employer, and disgraced the tenets of Christianity,” Rhodes concluded. “As a Christian, I pray that the Lord show you mercy, but I pray that the state of California does not.”
After Tom left the lecturn, Galiher turned to the Rhodes family to say he was “deeply remorseful and extremely sorry.” He only spoke about two minutes.
A visibly moved Odriozola called for a recess and then rendered his verdict: his hands were bound by the law. Galiher had pleaded guilty to driving under the influence and causing injury and DUI over .08 BAC causing injury, both felonies. Though the maximum penalty for the crime was three years in state prison, the OC DA's office had only asked the judge to sentence Galiher to four more months of house confinement and five years probation. Hess told Odriozola that the DA's office had looked into trying Galiher on vehicular manslaughter charges, but couldn't establish enough evidence to make a plausible case (Rhodes' official cause of death was acute respiratory failure brought on by pneumonia, but the 70-year-old had led an active lifestyle swimming and playing tennis just before his car accident).
Galiher had already spent 90 days in a alcoholism clinic and four months under house arrest at his Tennessee home before facing any sentence. The fact that Galiher expressed remorse and completed his alcoholism program and house arrest without incident convinced Odriozola to reject Hess' request for more jail time for Galiher. “If I wanted to give you more time,” Odriozola told Galiher, “I'm constrained by the law not to.”
The commissioner did force Galiher to see the pictures of a maimed Tom Rhodes one last time, to remind him of the horrors he had caused to the Rhodes family, horrors from which he escaped any prison at all. Galiher left the courtroom, the same smirk on his face that you see above frozen in relief.