SANTA CRUZ -- The principal of a Watsonville alternative school pleaded no contest Wednesday to charges that she committed a traffic violation that resulted in death or injury to another person, and will be sentenced next week.
Victoria Briseno Sorensen was originally charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter for the Nov. 1, 2010 death of Daniel Garcia, a father of five who worked as a custodian in the Scotts Valley Unified School District.
Sorensen was leaving her job at the New School around 5:15 p.m. to go pick up her children when she made what police described as an illegal turn onto Harkins Slough Road, striking the motorcycle driven by Garcia.
Garcia was wearing a helmet, but his motorcycle struck the driver's side of Sorensen's Jeep and he was thrown over the hood, onto the ground. Garcia suffered major brain trauma and was transported to an area hospital, where he died 10 days later.
Garcia, who'd worked in the Scotts Valley school district for 14 years, also worked closely with the varsity football team, of which his son was a member. The school district community sold T-shirts and collected more than $4,000 to help his family after his death.
The football team's coach recalled that Garcia helped keep the football field in decent shape, and often brought homemade tamales to feed the players.
Police investigating the fatal crash determined Sorensen was at fault, but defense attorney Ben Rice claimed Garcia,
Several people attended Wednesday's proceedings in support of Sorensen.
"Victoria Sorensen plays an incredible role in the community," said Murry Schekman, assistant superintendent for the Pajaro Valley Unified School District. "She supervises the most at-risk kids - she is a valuable resource." The New School, founded 20 years ago, enrolls 30-60 students each year, with about half of them attending due to expulsions.
"We are friends in addition to colleagues," said Cynthia Balthasar, program director of the Santa Cruz/Silicon Valley New Teacher Project. "She has been deeply affected by this experience." Balthasar said Sorensen continues to impress her with her integrity and commitment to the community.
Sorensen, who is not in custody, will be sentenced at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 14. Members of Garcia's family are expected to speak at that time.
In a letter written to Garcia's family, Sorensen said she couldn't imagine the pain of their loss.
"I want you to know that Mr. Garcia's death and who he was is something that will be with me the rest of my life," she wrote. "The sentence I will receive will be short-lived in comparison to the sorrow and regret I will carry wih me for the rest of my life."
Follow Sentinel reporter Jessica M. Pasko on Twitter: @jmpasko96