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Beauty college shooter sentenced
Rubalcava admits to 'really bad decision,' gets 270 days in jail
By SUSAN HERENDEEN
BEE STAFF WRITER


Last Updated: December 19, 2006, 05:55:53 AM PST


Everyone who has been affected by the tragic accidental shooting of 17-year-old Michelle Dalrymple wants to turn the clock back, according to statements they gave Monday afternoon in Stanislaus County Superior Court.
But there are no do-overs for Mick Vito Rubalcava, 23, of Modesto, who tucked a loaded handgun into his backpack even though he knew it was illegal to carry a concealed weapon or bring a gun onto school grounds.

And though Michelle loves soccer, softball and volleyball, she never will walk or run again.

Rubalcava's gun discharged on Aug. 4 as he set the backpack on the floor during a class at California Beauty College in downtown Modesto. The bullet lodged in Michelle's back and severed her spinal chord, paralyzing her from the waist down.

She addressed the court, saying every day brings a new difficulty, such as needing help to bathe, being taunted by people who assume she is developmentally delayed, and being unable to squeeze through doors.

"Being a teenager in a wheelchair really stinks," Michelle said.

Rubalcava, an off-duty secu-rity guard who graduated from the police academy, said he is ashamed of a mistake that will haunt him.

"I made a really bad decision," he said. "I never even thought in my wildest imagination that a gun could go off without pulling the trigger."

A large crowd gathered in Judge Donald Shaver's courtroom, so many that some spectators had to wait in the hallway while Rubalcava was sentenced on one felony and two misdemeanor charges.

He threw himself on the mercy of the court by pleading guilty early in the legal process, acknowledging that he deserves to be punished. But he also asked for leniency, saying he needs to work, to support his wife and two young sons.

Rubalcava was charged with bringing a loaded firearm onto school grounds, a felony, and carrying a concealed weapon as well as carrying a loaded gun in public, both misdemeanors.

He faced up to four years in state prison, but attorneys agreed that county jail would be sufficient.

Deputy Public Defender Marcus Mumford asked for commu-nity service or 60 to 180 days in jail. He said the shooting was an accident with tragic consequences.

Deputy District Attorney Michael Houston asked for one year in jail, saying Rubalcava must have learned about the dangers of guns at the police academy.

The judge said Rubalcava must serve 270 days and must report to jail on Feb. 20 if the Sheriff's Department does not let him serve his time in a work-release program.

"This case is a tragedy for all involved," Shaver said. "There's nothing I can do that would change that."

Rubalcava's sentencing hearing stretched over three hours, with family members telling of Michelle's new reality and Rubalcava's remorse. Many in the audience choked back tears as they listened.

Carrie Rubalcava said her husband was carrying a gun because he had been threatened a few days earlier. He works as an armed security guard and thought he might have to defend himself.

Joe and Michelle Williams said their son made a mistake but is not a dangerous person.

"Mick is not a criminal," said Joe Williams, associate pastor at Shelter Cove Church in Modesto. "He doesn't have a criminal mind."

Jeanne Dalrymple, a registered nurse, said her daughter wouldn't know if her legs were burned by hot coffee or crushed in a fall.

She recalled a lively young woman who had just gotten her driver's license and was fondly referred to as "the energizer bunny" because she liked to jog well ahead of her parents and siblings on family outings.

She said Michelle won't be able to crawl under the Christmas tree this year to inspect her presents. She said she couldn't quite express her grief over her daughter's lost opportunities.

"Life used to be so easy for Michelle, who moved so swiftly and gracefully," Jeanne Dalrymple said. "And it all changed with one bullet."

Terry Dalrymple said he watched his daughter struggle through 45 days of rehabilitation at Shriner's Hospital in Sacramento when she should have been starting her senior year at Big Valley Christian High School.

He said Michelle went to beauty college so she could learn a skill and help pay her way through college. Now her options are limited and a painful new reality has taken hold.

It's hard to hug a person in a wheelchair, Terry Dalrymple said. The family has watched the teenager tumble out of her chair more than once when the wheels hit a snag.

Michelle's father said he can forgive Rubalcava. But he reminded the court about something the young man told police: Rubalcava knew it was illegal to carry a concealed weapon, but he thought all would be forgiven if he had to use the gun to protect himself.

"If Mr. Rubalcava had not broken the law, she would be well today," said Terry Dalrymple, the international coordinator for Medical Ambassadors, a Christian missionary group that works in developing countries.