Both sides in fatal hit-and-run of athlete find judge’s sentencing unfair

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Joseph Cantu has been sentenced to six years probation for the fatal hit-and-run of former University of Texas track athlete Philip Wood.

Cantu was found guilty in June of failure to stop and render aid in the March 2, 2014 hit-and-run collision.

KXAN met with Wood’s parents Wednesday afternoon. “I don’t think really as a parent there’s ever a sense of closure. We will live with this for the rest of our lives,” said Wood’s mother, Julia.

“He’s left a massive hole in our lives, and he’s dearly missed by his friends, and being our only child, we will never have grandchildren,” said Wood’s father, David.

Cantu, who was 34 years old at the time of the collision on North MoPac Expressway, turned himself in to police a week afterward.

“It’s hard for him,” said Cantu’s attorney, Charlie Baird. “This has always been a very difficult case for him, and for me, and for also the Wood family.”

Court documents showed Cantu admitted to hitting Philip Wood as the 23-year-old was walking across the freeway around 2 a.m. Parts of Cantu’s Chevrolet Malibu were found at the scene and were tracked back to him when he went to get his car repaired.

Cantu was also sentenced to serve two nights in jail each year during probation on two specific dates. The first is Jan. 30 (Wood’s birthday), and the second is March 2 (the date of the crash).

Cantu’s sentences was handed down Tuesday night by 450th District Court Judge Brad Urrutia. On top of probation, Cantu was sentenced to 200 hours of community service restitution, ignition interlock for half of the probation term, court-ordered panel for DWI offenders, treatment and counseling as recommended, letter of apology to victim’s family and no alcohol consumption during the probation term.

Cantu’s attorney, Charles Baird, called the sentence “vindictive and petty.”

“The conditions were very inappropriate because they do not have any reasonable relationship to the offense in which Mr. Cantu was actually convicted, and that means not stopping his vehicle to determine whether an individual was involved in the accident,” Baird said.

The Woods family feel the sentence isn’t harsh enough. They say their son’s case was a missed opportunity for Judge Urrutia to utilize a Texas law passed in 2013 that increased penalties for people who drive away and never return to the scene after hitting someone.

“We thought that there was a good opportunity for the judge to send a clear message based on the new law that the judiciary was going to be serious about upholding the intent of the law,” said David Wood.

“We were hopeful, very hopeful perhaps out of our tragedy something could come out that was positive on a societal level, and so this was a very big disappointment for us,” said Julia Wood.

“This one was such a tragic incident that I don’t believe either side can heal or draw closure,” said Baird, who says his team will likely appeal the judge’s sentence.

Wood was from Yardley, Pennsylvania. He ran for the UT Track and Field team for three years as a long distance and cross-country runner, KXAN reported in 2014. He last ran for the university in spring 2012.

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