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McGhee sentenced for crash that almost killed Si Casa Xpress employee

Facing nearly nine years in prison, Jeremy Douglas McGhee apologized to Juan Granados-Gonzales on Thursday for causing a crash that nearly killed the Si Casa Xpress employee.

Clutching a tissue, his eyes red from crying, the tattooed 6-foot-6 McGhee turned to face Granados-Gonzales in the Josephine County Jail courtroom during his sentencing hearing.

"I am deeply sorry," McGhee said.

Granados-Gonzales nodded in response. He was sitting alone in a row of blue plastic chairs in front of several of McGhee's family members, wearing a gray zip-up jacket and a black-and-white scarf that covered the tracheostomy tube in his neck.

Unable to speak above a raspy whisper, Granados-Gonzales told Deputy District Attorney Matt Corey before the hearing started that he needs vocal cord surgery and that the "worst case scenario" is that he could lose his voice. He said he also suffers from lingering effects of the brain injuries caused by the Nov. 5 crash.

On that day, the 30-year-old McGhee, of Grants Pass, was fleeing police on Williams Highway in a stolen GMC Denali at an estimated 90 mph when he lost control of the SUV just as Granados-Gonzales — who had just gotten off work at Si Casa Xpress — was pulling out of the 76 gas station in Murphy. The SUV barreled into Granados-Gonzales' car with so much force that it flipped the car and knocked out its engine, which landed about 30 feet away.

Grants Pass police had been chasing McGhee, but said they called off the pursuit shortly before the crash occurred. McGhee ran from the scene and eluded capture for several weeks before he was arrested during a traffic stop.

While the manhunt for McGhee was underway, Granados-Gonzales began a long journey to recovery, having almost died in the crash. He spent a month and a half in the hospital until he was allowed to come home for Christmas. He is now able to walk and drive. His wife, Lynn, and their three youngest children came with him to the jail on Thursday but he had them wait in the car outside because he decided he didn't want them to have to sit through McGhee's sentencing.

When Judge Michael Newman entered the courtroom, he asked whether Granados-Gonzales was present in the courtroom. Granados-Gonzales raised his hand.

"Good to see you," Newman said. "Thank you," Granados-Gonzales whispered in return.

Corey, the prosecutor, called McGhee a "menace to society," saying his crimes over the years have left "a wake of victims for over a decade now in Josephine County."

His criminal history includes convictions for third-degree robbery in 2009 and 2004; driving while under the influence of intoxicants in 2007; fourth-degree assault in 2004; and third-degree assault in 2003.

Newman sentenced McGhee on Thursday to 105 months in prison — nearly nine years — after he pleaded guilty earlier this month to a long list of charges stemming from the crash and an incident in May in which he was found with drugs during a traffic stop. The charges included second-degree assault, unauthorized use of a vehicle, reckless driving, criminal mischief, methamphetamine possession, attempting to elude an officer and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Corey read aloud from a victim impact statement written by Granados-Gonzales' wife, Lynn Mendosa.

"I'm a stay-at-home mom, a mother of four beautiful kids," Mendosa wrote. She called her husband "my everything" and said he was the sole provider for the family. Because she stayed at Granados-Gonzales' bedside after the crash, it has been a struggle for the family to scrape by financially, she wrote.

McGhee's court-appointed defense attorney, Rebecca Peterson, told Newman, "Your honor, I would like the court to know that from the very beginning of this case, Mr. McGhee was about as remorseful as I've seen in a defendant in my many years of practice."

She mentioned a letter McGhee wrote apologizing to Granados-Gonzales. A copy of the letter, which was written in poem form, was mailed to the Daily Courier from the jail. In it, McGhee lamented, among other things, that he had shattered both Granados-Gonzales' family and his own.

Peterson said the personal cost to McGhee is that he won't be able to see his 6-year-old son grow up.

"His son will be very different when he gets out, and he will have missed all of that because of his actions," she said.

McGhee's son was in court Thursday, holding hands with his mother, who was in the chair next to him. Before the hearing started, McGhee turned around and winked at them.

Peterson also pointed out that McGhee's brother is also in the Josephine County Jail, and that her client is using their time together there to try to steer his sibling away from a life of crime. Jeffery McGhee, who at 29 is one year younger than Jeremy, has been booked on several parole violations and a methamphetamine possession charge.

When Jeremy McGhee made his brief statement at his sentencing, he started with, "I'd just like to apologize to Juan and his family and my family. I never meant for anybody to get hurt."

Newman didn't sugarcoat his comments to McGhee when he handed down the sentence.

"Frankly, I think your son's going to be better off without your influence on him," Newman said.

Outside of court, Granados-Gonzales said he's doing better these days, although he's concerned about his vocal cords and said his eyesight is worse since the crash. He's still recovering from 16 broken bones — including nine broken ribs — and other injuries.

Nonetheless, he said he's not angry at McGhee for injuring him. He is bothered that his family has suffered, though.

He's looking forward to getting back to work, although he can't return to Si Casa Xpress as a manager because he can speak only in a whisper. He said he's spoken with his employers and they're looking at options.

Granados-Gonzales said he appreciates how local residents came together to help and pray for him and his family.

"I want to thank the whole community for all the support," he said.

Reach reporter Melissa McRobbie at 541-474-3806 or mmcrobbie@thedailycourier.com.