By Tommy Nguyen
VENTURA, CA – During his probation modification hearing here this week in Ventura County Superior Court, Sergio Herrera insisted on paying any amount of restitution demanded, claiming he wanted to make it right for the victim’s family despite his personal hardships.
Herrera was charged with two counts of felony sale and possession for the sale of controlled substances, to which he had pleaded guilty last year.
Herrera was arrested in April of 2021 after police conducted a thorough investigation over the fatal overdose of a student from California Lutheran University. Herrera was found in possession of illegally pressed fentanyl pills—similar to the drugs consumed by the victim.
At the sentencing last year—Herrera was sent to jail for one year—the victim’s family member stated, “These drugs are killing a lot of innocent people and it needs to stop, you know. Especially these people that are selling this knowing that these pills have fentanyl in it. This has not just happened to us, but to a lot of other families.
“I would like you to take this into consideration,” continued the victim’s family member. “It has broken our family. My mom, she is not the same. My dad is not the same. Every day is like reliving this again and again and again, wishing this didn’t happen. These people [drug dealers] don’t take into consideration if these kids are going through mental health or anxiety.”
The victim’s relative ended, reminiscing, “[The victim] had so many plans and everything was taken away.”
Judge Murphy said the restitution is a significant amount, $15,129.50.
“I just have so many bills, I got to pay a thousand dollars weekly for a hotel cuz I haven’t found a place [after moving here],” Herrera explained without his counsel’s presence. “But I don’t wanna fight it, I know that it is a lot of stress for the family and all that.”
The accused insisted that he pay the restitution in full, but Herrera hoped the court would let him pay in monthly payments instead of all at once.
As he finished, Deputy District Attorney Jillian Ewan shared with the court a note from Jeffrey Vallens, the accused’s assigned attorney who was not present that day, saying that the restitution amount was already litigated.
Judge Bruce Young from another courtroom has ordered only $10,000 of the $15,000 to be paid, and the prosecution’s position was that the order should not be overruled. DDA Ewan wondered why the department submitted this request again.
Herrera then interrupted, explaining that it was the family who wanted him to pay everything in full even though his attorney was able to lower the amount.
“I wanna be on good terms with the family, and I know that it [restitution] is nothing in comparison to their loss,” Herrera said. “So I’m fine with paying it on full as long as you [the court] lets me pay it in smaller payments right now once I get back on my feet and find my own place out here.”
Judge Murphy then asked Herrera to confirm the amount of fees that he is currently paying the court. She recalled that the initial restitution amount was actually $10,000, the additional $5,000 was further demanded by the victim’s family to cover costs.
The judge announced she would let Herrera pay in small payments, but then reminded him that in the case his probation expires and he has not paid the whole amount, he might be required to pay the remaining amount all at once depending on the victim’s family, so long as it is lawful.