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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — A grieving son Monday asked a judge to watch a video that represented his beloved father’s life, so the judge would understand there are many more impacted by his death than just his relatives, who were able to speak in court about the horrifying crash on Interstate 80 over two years ago.
In victim impact statements, several members of Robert Sawyer’s family asked not for vengeance, but for justice in sentencing Stephen D. Lucore.
Lucore was convicted for intentionally driving the wrong way and crashing into Sawyer’s vehicle in an attempt to kill himself but instead took Sawyer’s life and injured four others June 16, 2019.
Robert’s son, David Sawyer of Frisco, Texas, who was driving his father, mother-in-law and two children home after celebrating Father’s Day in Wisconsin, said his father was always in service of others, whether it was his missionary work, providing foster care, helping special-needs children or in his younger days being a police officer.
David Sawyer, in his statement, said so many children in Mexico, where he did mission work, had felt the love of his 64-year-old father. His father wanted to make a difference.
“There’s not enough words to express how great my dad was,” David said tearing up.
Carmen Sawyer, Robert’s wife, told the judge how she met her husband many years ago when she was secretary in a small town in Mexico. A hurricane had ravaged the town and Robert came with others from the United States to help rebuild the area.
Her husband eventually quit his job in the states to stay in Mexico and work as a missionary, and the two married. Robert also helped at an orphanage and worked with troubled youth. They started calling him “Popi Roberto,” as he showed them “they could become good men and women.”
“I know my husband is in the best (heaven) place,” Carmen Sawyer said. “I carry him in my heart and will always miss him.”
During sentencing, Lucore, 34, of Iowa City, said he was sorry for the death of Robert Sawyer and for the injuries caused by the crash to Luz Mercedes Cuevas Gallardo and David Sawyer’s two young children. He didn’t intend to harm anyone but himself, he said.
Lucore said it was clear to him that Robert Sawyer was a “great” man to his family, community and others whose lives he touched. He didn’t blame the family for being angry but hoped they could forgive him in time.
Sixth Judicial District Judge Jason Besler, calling Lucore’s actions “callous,” sentenced him to 60 years in prison for convictions of second-degree murder, homicide by vehicle, serious injury by vehicle, willful injury causing serious injury and three counts of willful injury causing bodily injury.
Besler ran the three counts of willful injury causing bodily injury — each five-year sentences — concurrently to the others. He said running them consecutively to the 60 years wouldn’t be appropriate because it would be a life sentence and he wasn’t convicted of the original first-degree murder charge, but was found guilty of the lesser — second-degree murder.
Lucore will have to serve 35 years of the 50-year murder sentence before being eligible for parole.
According to a criminal complaint, Lucore drove his Hyundai Sonata the wrong way about 9:30 p.m. June 16, 2019, on Interstate 80 and caused a head-on collision with a Honda Pilot driven by David Sawyer, 31 at the time.
Sawyer's passenger, Robert Sawyer, of Nocona, Texas, died in the crash and Lucore caused serious or bodily injury to David Sawyer and to others in Sawyer's sport utility vehicle — mother-in-law, Cuevas Gallardo, 58, and to 'D.S.” and 'L.S.,” as the children are identified in court documents.
Besler, in a bench — non-jury — trial verdict, said this was a “unique case” because most of the facts were not in dispute. Lucore intentionally drove his car into David Sawyer’s vehicle. Sawyer attempted to avoid the collision, but Lucore continued to “hit the gas” and collide with the Honda.
Lucore admitted that he wanted to die by suicide that day. In the past, he had talked about colliding with a semitractor-trailer.
Besler said the main issue in the case was whether Lucore, who claimed diminished capacity as his defense, had malice and could form specific intent to kill. Lucore argued his intent was to die by suicide and not kill anyone else. He said he had no malice against Robert Sawyer and didn’t even know him.
Lucore acted with malice aforethought, Besler said, given the manner in which Lucore drove — making a U-turn to go in the wrong direction of traffic, turning off his lights, continuing to accelerate to make sure he crashed into Sawyer’s SUV, even as Sawyer attempted to avoid him.
Besler said the evidence proved Lucore had intent to cause injury but not that he had intent to kill, which was needed to find him guilty of first-degree murder.
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