What happened to the driver that killed BYU students in car crash?
Ashley Low, who was driving a car hit by Caesar Castellon-Flores on Oct. 15, 2021, said she often wishes she had stayed unconscious that night.
The horrible events of that evening are stuck in her memory — discovering that the blood on her arm wasn’t hers, trying desperately to get paramedics to check her friends for a pulse to try and save them, and realizing she was alone in the car and her roommates were no longer alive.
“I’ve never felt such intense loneliness or insurmountable grief,” she said.
Fourth District Judge Kraig Powell on Friday sentenced Castellon-Flores, 22, to three consecutive terms of zero to five years in prison — one sentence for each of the three victims. He pleaded guilty to two counts of manslaughter and one count of aggravated assault, third-degree felonies.
It is the maximum sentence Powell could order for the charges, he said. He added that although Castellon-Flores’s behavior is not very different from what “almost all of us do every day” — trying to speed through a yellow traffic light. But it came with a significant impact on many people and had unimaginable consequences.
“We have an imperfect system of government, with only imperfect justice that I am able to impose,” he said.
Life changes in a moment
Castellon-Flores was 418 feet from a stop light when it turned yellow, said deputy Utah County Attorney Tye Christensen. He applied 100% to the gas pedal and was going 77 mph when he entered the intersection at 400 South and State Street in Orem — almost twice the speed limit.
Because of how fast he was going, Castellon-Flores got into the intersection just before the light turned red, Christensen said; but if he had accelerated just a little less to 69 mph, the victim’s car, which was turning left off State Street, would not have been hit.
Hailee York and Ashlyn Hanzon died as a result of the crash. Both York, of Lehi, and Hanzon, of Pearland, Texas, were 21 years old. Low was hospitalized but did not have life-threatening injuries.
“It wasn’t supposed to be a date I would remember,” Low said. “I didn’t know I was supposed to be savoring those moments.”
York, Hanzon, Low and Olivia Gagon met while students at BYU and UVU. They were planning to be roommates through the rest of their time at school. Low and Gagon talked about how their roommates went out of their way to lift them up, bringing them small gifts.
“I miss coming home to them, I miss hearing their laughter in the next room, and I would do anything to bring them back,” Low said.
Now, the two roommates can’t be home alone and struggle to drive.
Gagon said she returned from work on Oct. 15, 2021, and waited for her roommates to get home. They had gone to Target to grab a game to play that night.
She checked their locations on her phone and thought her phone was broken because she saw that their locations continued to be stuck at that intersection — until she got a phone call. After that call, she felt “entirely alone,” looking around at everything in the room while still waiting for them to come back from a quick trip. She heard Hanzon’s clothes still moving inside the dryer.
Gagon said she doesn’t believe Castellon-Flores acted intentionally. Regardless, his conscious decision caused the death of her friends and other lasting consequences for many others who knew them.
Instead of going to the Halloween party the roommates had been planning, Low and Gagon went to the funerals of their friends.
Families continue grieving
York’s father, Aaron York, told Castellon-Flores he caused a lot of pain and suffering for their family, and stole precious moments from his future, moments of hikes with his daughter, listening to her sing or play the piano and seeing her get married and raise children.
Aaron York said he previously wanted to make sure the other driver served as much time as possible, but he’s realized more time in jail wouldn’t bring back either of the girls.
“Today I feel like I can embrace you, and let you know that I forgive you,” York said.
Hanzon’s parents said they are still trying to reach the same point of forgiveness. Jeff Hanzon said that day remains the worst day of his life, hearing his daughter had passed at 3 am the next morning. The pain and sorrow are so intense he cannot remember life before that day he said.
“We’re here today for a sentencing hearing, but this really does not change anything,” Hanzon said. “At the end of the day we lose, we go home without our daughter, the Yorks go home without their daughter. This is simply an act.”
He talked about the impact on the rest of their family, including four other children and his wife.
“Turning your car into a lethal weapon is a choice, and that’s exactly what happened,” he said. “Castellon-Flores chose to go that speed, and in doing so took two lives, and he cannot make restitution for that.”
Wishes to turn back time
Castellon-Flores’ attorney, Stephen Allred, said his client was not interacting with Snapchat when the crash occurred. He said the report analyzing the crash shows the application of brakes and gas that show he was responding to road conditions. He took his foot off the gas and then put it back on near the light.
He added that although his client’s action had a devastating impact, it is from a small thing — driving too quickly. Allred said his client wishes he could swap places with the victims and be the one who died instead.
“All he can do at this point is tell them how sorry he is, how much he regrets his actions,” Allred said.
Castellon-Flores, through an interpreter, also spoke to the courtroom and asked for forgiveness. He said he acknowledges the mistake and wishes it didn’t happen.
“Please know that it was never my intention for this to happen,” he said. “It was never my intention for you to have this loss and suffer this way.”
His life has been altered as well, he said, and he begged those in the courtroom to let him show he is not a bad person and to give him a second opportunity.
“How I regret your loss,” he said, “and I wish I could turn time back. But that’s impossible.”
Correction: In an earlier version incorrectly spelled Ashley Low’s name as Lowe.
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