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 October 15, 2021, said she often wished she had stayed unconscious that night.

She remembers the horrifying events of that evening — when she discovered the blood on her arm wasn’t hers, desperately trying to get paramedics to take her friends for a pulse to save her, and recognize that she was alone in the car and her roommates were no longer alive.

“I’ve never felt such intense loneliness or insurmountable sadness,” she said.

Fourth Circuit Judge Kraig Powell on Friday sentenced 22-year-old Castellon-Flores to three consecutive terms ranging from zero to five years — 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’s the maximum sentence Powell could face down on the charges, he said. He added that while Castellon-Flores’ behavior isn’t very different from what “almost all of us do every day” – trying to speed through a yellow light. But it came with a significant impact on many people and had unimaginable consequences.

“We have an imperfect system of government with only an imperfect judiciary to enforce,” he said.

Life changes in a moment

Castellon-Flores was 418 feet from a stop light when it turned yellow, Utah County Assistant Attorney Tye Christensen said. He hit the accelerator 100% and was doing 77 mph when he pulled into the intersection of 400 South and State Streets in Orem – almost twice the speed limit.

Because he was driving so fast, Castellon-Flores entered the intersection just before the light turned red, Christensen said; but if he had accelerated just a little slower to 69 mph, the victim’s car, which was making a left turn 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 had no life-threatening injuries.

“It wasn’t supposed to be a date I would remember,” Low said. “I didn’t know that I should enjoy these moments.”

York, Hanzon, Low, and Olivia Gagon met while they were students at BYU and UVU. They planned to be roommates for the rest of their school years. Low and Gagon talked about how their housemates went out of their way to pick them up and bring 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 housemates can’t be at home alone and have trouble driving the car.

Gagon said she returned from work on October 15, 2021 and waited for her roommates to come home. They had gone to Target to play a game that night.

She checked their locations on her phone and thought her phone was broken because she saw their locations continued to be stuck at that intersection — until she got a call. After that call, she felt “completely alone” and looked around the room while still waiting for them to return from a short trip. She heard Hanzon’s clothes still moving in the dryer.

Gagon said she doesn’t think Castellon-Flores acted intentionally. Regardless, his conscious decision caused the deaths of her friends and other lasting consequences for many others who knew her.

Instead of going to the Halloween party the roommates had planned, Low and Gagon went to their friends’ funerals.

Families continue to mourn

York’s father, Aaron York, told Castellon-Flores he caused a lot of pain and suffering to their family and stole precious moments from his future, moments of hiking with his daughter, listening to her sing or playing the piano and seeing her get married and raise children.

Aaron York said he wanted to make sure the other driver served as much time as possible beforehand, but he realized more jail time wouldn’t bring either girl back.

“Today I feel like I can hug you and let you know that I’ve forgiven you,” York said.

Hanzon’s parents said they’re still trying to reach that same point of forgiveness. Jeff Hanzon said that day was the worst day of his life when he heard his daughter had died at 3am the next morning. The pain and grief are so intense that he cannot remember any life before that day, he said.

“We’re here today for a sentencing hearing, but that really doesn’t 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. It’s just an act.”

He spoke about the impact on the rest of her family, including four other children and his wife.

“Turning your car into a deadly weapon is a choice, and that’s what happened,” he said. “Castellon-Flores chose this speed at the cost of two lives and he cannot make amends for that.”

Want to turn back time

Castellon-Flores attorney Stephen Allred said his client was not interacting with Snapchat when the crash happened. He said the report, which analyzes the accident, shows the application of the brakes and throttle, showing he was reacting to road conditions. He took his foot off the gas and put it back on near the light.

He added that while his client’s action was devastating, it came down to one small thing – speeding. Allred said his client wishes he could trade places with the victims and be the one who died instead.

“At this point, all he can do is tell them how sorry he is, how much he regrets his actions,” Allred said.

Castellon-Flores also spoke to the courtroom through an interpreter and asked for forgiveness. He said he confessed the mistake and wished it hadn’t happened.

“Please note that it was never my intention for this to happen,” he said. “It was never my intention for you to suffer this loss and suffer like this.”

His life has changed too, he said, and he asked those in the courtroom to let him show he wasn’t a bad person and give him a second chance.

“How I’m sorry for your loss,” he said, “and I wish I could turn back time. But that is impossible.”

Correction: In an earlier version, Ashley Low’s name was misspelled as Lowe.

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