Standing up in Superior Court before Judge Louis Menendez, a 19-year-old convicted of felony assault broke down in tears and apologized for throwing rocks at passing cars last summer, an incident that injured an unsuspecting young passenger.
“I am sorry for everything,” Chaleb E. Calandra said in between sobs during his sentencing hearing Thursday. “The actions that we took that night, the actions that we did that night, we did not intend to hurt anybody.”
Calandra was one of three teenagers charged as an adult for injuring a 6-year-old boy who was in the backseat of a car that was driving on Mendenhall Loop Road last July when a rock the size of a softball came crashing through one of the windows.
Assistant District Attorney Amy Williams said the boy was sprayed with glass, and the physical injuries and emotional trauma he suffered was “nothing short of horrifying.” He had to have shards of glass removed from his eye; he required 17 stitches for the lacerations on his face; and he will have permanent facial scarring.
Pointing to a photograph of the boy in the hospital, Williams said, “(This is) the photograph that from the start made me take this case so seriously. It’s the photograph that, frankly, when I looked at it, I knew that the young people responsible for that damage needed to be ... removed from the juvenile system and this needed to be treated as an adult felony. And that photograph is the reason that I am so insistent on Mr. Calandra — despite his youth, despite his slight criminal history — on getting an adult felony and a lengthy period of supervision for this.”
While the other two defendants are maintaining their innocence, Calandra took a plea deal offered by prosecutors in June. Menendez accepted that deal on Thursday, saying it was an appropriate resolution.
The deal required Calandra to plead guilty to one of the three felony counts of assault against him, and in return, it dropped the remaining two counts. It imposed four years in prison with three years suspended, meaning one year to serve, as well as four years of probation. It also required him to admit to a sentencing aggravator, pay restitution for the medical bills, receive alcohol treatment if recommended and write the victim a letter of apology.
The deal also resolved another case against him. While Calandra was out on bail, he was accused of altering credit card receipts to give himself a bigger tip while working as a pizza delivery driver for Bullwinkle’s Pizza. The state charged him with six felony counts of second-degree forgery, one count for each altered receipt, and one count of misdemeanor theft for stealing less than $500. He pled guilty to reduced charges — two misdemeanors — and received a total of nine months to serve. That means his total sentence for both cases is one year and nine months to serve in prison.
Calandra’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Grace Lee, emphasized the fact that her client was not seeking to hurt anyone in the rock-throwing incident. She chalked it up to “young stupidity.”
“This was not an intentional crime,” she stressed.
Lee noted that it is unknown who threw the rock in question since all three teenagers had admitted to throwing rocks at the cars at the same time, but that her client was admitting that it likely could have been his rock.
Attorneys for the other two defendants, Jared H. Cheatham and Noel Toribio, now both 18 years old, previously moved to dismiss the indictments in the case in part based on that argument: that the state failed to prove causation to the grand jury. They argued “mere presence at the scene is not enough” to prove that theirs was the “offending” rock. Menendez denied those motions in August. Cheatham and Toribio are slated to stand trial in April.
Calandra told the judge that he cannot speak for the other two defendants, but that he thinks about what he did every single day.
“I can’t speak for them, but I can speak for myself that I am sorry from the bottom of my heart,” he said. “I’m sorry for what happened to that kid, I think about it every day. And from the pictures and knowing what happened to him, that it was basically because of what we did that he will not have a functional life now. I mean, he will, but it will be a lot harder for him now.”
He added, “I feel horrible for everything. I pray to the kid’s family and to him that he will be OK.”
The victim’s mother could not attend the sentencing hearing, but she submitted a letter to the court detailing how the event has impacted the boy’s life. She wrote that at one time, the boy asked her, “Mom, do you hate these boys for hurting me?”
“I said I may be upset but I don’t know these young men, and I don’t wish them to have a hard life,” the mother wrote, “But I also know with any actions taken that is wrong always has consequences that (they) will need to stand accountable for.”
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at email@example.com.