SAN ANTONIO – A man who killed a San Antonio teenager in a 2017 distracted-driving crash was sentenced Thursday to serve six months in jail and 10 years probation.
Paul Soechting, 27, was taken from the 399th District Court in handcuffs after a gut-wrenching sequence of victim impact statements given by family members of victim Emily Zaltsman, 13.
Soechting will serve 90 days in jail now and must report back to jail on Emily’s birthday to serve shorter 10-day sentences each of the next nine years.
He must complete 200 hours of community service as part of his plea agreement.
Judge Frank Castro also suspended Soechting’s driving privileges for a year.
The manslaughter case languished in court for years, as its trial date was postponed 15 times.
Soechting, who is deaf and does not speak, apologized to Emily’s family through a sign language interpreter.
“I want to say I am very sorry for the loss of Emily,” Soechting communicated to her family using sign language. Soechting added that he knows he destroyed their lives and wishes the day of the crash never happened.
Soechting drove his Jeep Rubicon into the back of the car Emily was riding in while it was at a standstill in traffic on Loop 1604 in September 2017, crushing the teen in the backseat.
A witness told San Antonio police Soechting appeared to be looking down at his phone prior to the wreck.
Investigators noted that Soechting’s vehicle did not brake before striking the back of the Lexus sedan driven by Emily’s grandfather, case records obtained by KSAT Investigates revealed.
Emily, a multi-sport athlete, honor roll student and member of the orchestra who wanted to one day become a doctor, died of severe trauma to her head, her autopsy report showed.
“Your selfish, reckless and stupid choice took our granddaughter’s life. There is no excuse for anyone to text and drive,” said Lois Solomon, Emily’s grandmother, during her victim impact statement.
Annie Zucker, Emily’s aunt, described the devastating impact the crash has had on the teen’s loved ones.
“I can still hear the sobbing as Lori and I read her eulogy and the screaming as they lowered her casket into the ground,” Zucker said.
Emily’s mother, Karin Zaltsman, listed the milestones in Emily’s life that the family has missed in the more than five years since her passing, including graduating from high school and attending school dances.
“We have gone to Emily’s grave for her 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th birthday,” Karin Zaltsman said.
The most powerful moment came during the victim impact statement given by Emily’s younger sister, Sarah.
The 16-year-old, who began learning sign language after her sister’s death, read aloud from a letter before stopping and using sign language to communicate to Soechting her goodbye message to her sister.
“I’m lost without you and alone ever since he took you from us. I’m sitting here in this courtroom reading this letter, hoping to get justice for you. I’ll miss you forever and you’ll always be my sister. Maybe one day I can see you again,” Sarah said using sign language.
In exchange for a guilty plea from Soechting during a hearing last week, prosecutors agreed to waive the deadly weapon allegation against him. They will also not proceed with a separate texting and driving charge.
Soechting’s attorneys argued in court that sentencing him to jail would jeopardize his current employment.