The Justice Files: Did the system fail the Lavana family?


SANDY Utah (ABC4 Utah) –  Major Fernando Lavana was living the American Dream.

He was a Mexican immigrant who became a U.S. citizen, earned a degree from UCLA and a masters from Sacramento State. He also served his country for 16 years in the military.

“He loved the military,” said his wife Rachel. “I think it was the perfect fit for him.”

Lavana served two tours of duty in Iraq and earned a bronze medal and the meritorious service medal.

“But I will say his work was second to his family.”

And that’s what happened about five weeks ago.

Lavana was playing dad and had dropped off his son at a bus stop along Wasatch Boulevard.  He waved to his son and called his wife for an update. It was the last time they would ever talk.

“They said while he was crossing the street he had been hit by a car and didn’t survive,” said Rachel Lavana.

68-year old Gordon Holmstead was the driver and is now under investigation for Lavana’s death.  There was no evidence of alcohol in his system but a toxicology test was ordered.

But what troubles Lavana’s wife is the fact, it’s not the first time Holmstead has been in traffic accidents involving others.

  • Last October: He was charged with DUI.  He pleaded guilty to impaired driving in January and was fined but a jail sentence was suspended.
  • Feb. 2:  Holmstead was cited for failure to maintain control of a vehicle. Police records showed he struck two cars that were stopped at an intersection.
  • Feb. 7: He’s accused of hitting Lavana who was in a crosswalk.
  • Feb. 8:  Holmstead got a second DUI, a class B misdemeanor.

“It seems like this isn’t a one-time event,” said Rachel Lavana.  “There seems to be a repeated concern with his driving.”

On the day of his last DUI, police records showed Holmstead rented a vehicle despite his questionable driving record.

“What goes through my mind is how rental companies are allowing their cars out to people with these types or records,” said Christian Burridge, Lavana’s attorney. “There’s been system failures on many levels.”

A former prosecutor and now a criminal lawyer said a defendant has a good chance that his criminal history won’t come up in justice court.

“The difficulty in enforcing this is there are multiple justice courts involved,” said Kent Morgan.  “Not just one and they are not equipped to have access to all the records for all the reports that were needed to be made in this case.” 

Lavana also said she didn’t want her children picked up on the opposite side of Wasatch Boulevard.  She said Fernando had to cross the street inorder to put their son on the bus.  

“I asked them why they couldn’t pick up them up on our side of the street, by our home,” Lavana said.

She claimed the bus does drop off children after school on their side of the road and asked the district if they could use the same stop to pick up children.  Lavana said that was denied because they already had a bus stop on their side of the street a short distance from where she lives.

“The problem we have is there is so much snow and the kids are forced to walk along the side of the road,” Lavana said.

A school district spokesman said the snow removal is an issue that Sandy city government needs to address.

Fernando and Rachel Lavana had a blended family.  Six children were his by a previous marriage.  She had two children previously.

This month, they were moving Washington state where he had been transferred.

But their dreams were shattered along Wasatch Drive by a system she claimed failed to protect her.

“It’s been very difficult,” she said.  And I’m not sure what we’ll do next,” Lavana said.  “It’s been very difficult.  I miss him a lot.”

It’s unclear if Holmstead ever had his driver’s license revoked.  State officials said that’s confidential information.  

Sandy Police Department has yet to complete its investigation of Holmstead in the death of Lavana.  Toxicology tests were conducted and if there was evidence that drugs were in Holmstead’s system he could be facing negligent homicide or manslaughter charges.

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