Citlali Mora would have been 17 on Thursday.
But instead of celebrating her birthday, her father, Oscar, addressed the SUV driver who fatally struck her and another 16-year-old, Nelly Amaya-Ramirez, as they crossed the street the night of Aug. 3.
“Seventeen years ago, I was in the waiting room waiting anxiously and with joy the arrival of my daughter. Who would say that 17 years later I would find myself in a courtroom?” Mora said through a Spanish translator.
“I am fighting so that the person who took away my daughter could be judged and sentenced. This person, who one day decided to wake up, take all the drugs possible and then take away my daughter.”
Mora spoke before a judge sentenced Ebone Whitaker to between 10 and 25 years in prison on Thursday afternoon. Whitaker, 38, pleaded guilty in September to one count of DUI resulting in death and one count of reckless driving, according to court records.
After the crash, Whitaker told police she is a daily user of heroin and had consumed two beers and smoked marijuana before getting behind the wheel to drive home from a friend’s house, according to an arrest report. Earlier in the day, she added, she and her friends also had smoked a PCP-covered cigarette.
A toxicology report revealed that she had five separate substances in her system.
On Thursday, Mora described the plans his daughter had to travel to Mexico, graduate from Del Sol High School and attend a university. He asked District Judge Valerie Adair to impose the maximum sentence on Whitaker to make others think twice about driving while intoxicated.
“Even that is not going to return my daughter to me,” he said. “She took the very best of my life, and ripped away pretty much all of my life.”
A tearful Whitaker appeared via video chat from the Clark County Detention Center.
“I would just like to apologize to both of the families because I never intended for something like this to happen,” she said.
On the night of the crash, Whitaker was weaving in and out of southbound traffic on Maryland Parkway and she lost control of her Mercedes-Benz after she veered to the right and onto a sidewalk to avoid a car stopped at the red light at the intersection with Katie Avenue, the police report said.
Her SUV struck a traffic sign before continuing south and hitting Mora and Amaya-Ramirez as they were crossing Katie. One of the teens was thrown into the road and slid underneath the car that was stopped at the light.
That vehicle’s driver later told police that he saw the speeding Mercedes-Benz approaching his car and had braced for an impact, but when the SUV flew past him, he opened his car door to find an arm sticking out from underneath his vehicle, according to the report.
The second teen was thrown into a nearby McDonald’s drive-thru lane as Whitaker’s vehicle spun out, eventually striking two trees and a traffic pole before coming to a stop.
Mora died at the scene, while Amaya-Ramirez was taken to Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center and later died.
Whitaker was seriously injured in the crash and was hospitalized for several days, but told police she did not remember the collision.
Whitaker’s public defender, Talia Walkenshaw, said Thursday that though the events of what happened were tragic, her client “has had a significant trauma throughout her childhood and throughout her life and zero support.”
Walkenshaw said Whitaker grew up in a poverty-stricken household in St. Louis, Missouri, and was the black sheep of the family because she was the only one of her siblings to be born to a different father.
She began using drugs at the age of 6 and by 14, she was so addicted that she was having seizures and became pregnant with her first daughter, Walkenshaw said. Whitaker would go on to have four more children and was ultimately sex trafficked to Las Vegas.
Whitaker would use drugs to cope with her trauma and sometimes spent $800 a day to feed the habit, according to her attorney.
Court records show that Whitaker has faced drug-related charges in Las Vegas dating to 2007 and pleaded guilty to a charge of malicious injury to a vehicle after she admitted to kicking out a police car window in 2004.
“From the beginning, she was extremely remorseful. She accepted full responsibility for what she did,” Walkenshaw said. “I think it’s tragic, it’s heartbreaking. And I know Ms. Whitaker feels that way, too.”