When the man who killed one daughter and maimed the other was sentenced to 16-40 years in prison in October, Paula and Eddie Montanucci thought they could begin to get their lives back.
There were no negotiations and no trial in connection with the April 23 wrong-way drunken driving collision that claimed the life of Airman 1st Class Fallon Montanucci and resulted in her sister Avalon being critically injured.
District Judge Tod Young sentenced Matthew Joseph Premo to the maximum allowed under the law for two counts of driving under the influence causing death or substantial bodily harm.
But after a month in the custody of the Nevada Department of Corrections, Premo has been transferred to a conservation camp in Carlin, near Elko.
“When that sentence came down, I thought that this man was going to prison, just to find out that he’s at a conservation camp paying his debt to society, which means nothing in my mind,” Paula Montanucci said. “He needs time to contemplate what he’s done and what he did to my daughters and the choices that he made. I can’t mourn my daughter because I don’t feel like justice has been done for my daughter.”
Premo was sentenced on Oct. 17, 2022, after an emotional hearing where it was learned that Fallon Montanucci had steered the Hyundai Accent so that she would take the worst of the collision with a rented Ford F-150 pickup traveling at speeds of up to 102 mph. He had a .266 blood alcohol content a short time after the 4 a.m. collision just north of Johnson Lane.
“I remember how long it took us to get to Reno that morning,” Paula Montanucci said in a Dec. 28, 2022, interview at the couple’s Gardnerville Ranchos home. “It felt like a week. I have a husband with a five-artery bypass and metastasized prostate cancer. I had to put him in the car and go the long way through Genoa because the highway was closed because of what he did to my babies.”
When the Montanuccis arrived at Renown Regional Medical Center’s intensive care unit, they didn’t know what Avalon’s status would be.
“All the officers could tell me was that she knew her name and birthday,” she said.
After they arrived, the surgeon placed his hands on Avalon’s feet, which had been folded under the front seat in the crash.
“I was looking at two big black shoes that were my daughter’s feet because they had gotten folded under the front passenger’s seat and she pulled them up, and then she was able to put them down.”
Paula said she was picking pieces of glass out of Avalon’s face to keep them out of her eyes.
“I asked the nurses, ‘does she know about her sister?’ and they said ‘it’s not for us to tell her,’” Paula said. “I had to look at my little baby girl and I had to tell her she lost her sister and she looked at me and said ‘No mom, sissy was just here in bed with me.’”
Paula replied, “Baby your sister passed and if she was here with you she was here saying goodbye.”
Both Montanuccis said they thought Premo would be in a cell for at least the part of his sentence.
“I feel like going to a conservation work camp is something that after you go to prison is something he works toward maybe after 8-10 years,” she said. “Then maybe he gets that privilege of going to a work camp and get that fresh air and not look at four walls.”
The Montanuccis said they weren’t looking for vengeance but justice for Fallon.
“I want justice for my daughter, and we haven’t seen it yet,” she said. “I cannot rest. If it means taking it further, I will take it as far as it needs to go because I am that kind of mother, and I will make it my life’s mission.”
District Attorney Mark Jackson said that once someone is transferred to the prison system it is out of the hands of either prosecutors or judges. Prosecutor Chelsea Mazza added that it is unfortunate that once felony driving under the influence offenders are transferred to the prison that the specific facts of their crime become irrelevant to their classification for prison programs. This case is another example of why prosecutors have been lobbying for truth in sentencing reforms by the legislature.
Marsy’s Law, which was added to the Nevada Constitution by voters in 2018 after passing two sessions of the Nevada Legislature, requires the state to notify the families of victims of an inmate’s custody status or classification which affects the place or time of incarceration. Premo’s parole eligibility date is May 8, 2038.
Under the law he was sentenced under, the most good time he can earn off the lower end of his sentence is two years. Anything else is applied to the maximum.
There is an effort to have the DUI with death statute increased from a class B to a class A felony, but that would require an act of the Legislature, which has been reducing penalties over the past four years.
Both Premo and Jerrad Daniel Dominquez, who was sentenced to 6-20 years for the DUI collision that killed Carson City resident Hugo Parris Solis are in conservation camps, according to the state.
Joan Kathryn Wenger, who was sentenced to 10 years to life for being drunk when she rammed the back of a vehicle stopped at Highway 395 and Johnson Lane in 2019, is serving her sentence at Casa Grande Transitional Living.
According to a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections, offenders serving sentences for felony driving under the influence are generally put in one of the camps, where most work on Nevada Division of Forestry hand crews during fires.
“A camp is a minimum-custody institution where low-risk inmates are housed without secure fencing and are allowed to work off site,” according to the department.
Inmates are considered incarcerated and are under supervision when they aren’t in the camp.
Meanwhile, the Montanuccis are getting collection notices seeking up to $175,000 in medical bills.
“People think Avalon is raking in the money but what kind of insurance would cover someone with four convictions,” Paula said. “My daughter is walking away with a broken back, a lost sister and a kick in the teeth.”