Man pleads guilty to negligent homicide and aggravated assault in vehicle crash that killed his girlfriend

Contributed Photo/Courtesy GCSO: Jace Austin Sais, 23, pleaded guilty to negligent homicide and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in the March 2017 death of Isabel M. Aparicio, 20, of Solomon.

Will be sentenced August 19

By Jon Johnson

SAFFORD – More than three years have passed since Isabel M. Aparicio, 20, of Solomon died in a single-vehicle rollover. Now her passenger, Jace Austin Sais, 23, of Avondale, is set to be sentenced for contributing to her death.

On June 25, Sais pleaded guilty to negligent homicide – a Class-4 Felony – and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon – a Class-3 Felony – in front of then Gila County Superior Court Judge Pro Tem Gary V. Scales during a change of plea hearing held in Globe. Judge Scales retired in July but will perform the sentencing in August. According to the plea agreement, additional charges of reckless manslaughter aggravated assault, and endangerment were dismissed.

Negligent homicide carries a sentence of between 1 to 3.75 years in prison, but, according to the plea agreement, Judge Scales will have the option of sentencing Sais between 1 to 3 years in prison. The agreement also stipulates 3 years of standard probation on the aggravated assault charge to be initiated upon his release from prison. If Sais fails on probation, he will face an additional prison term of between 2 to 8.75 years.  

According to an initial report from the Graham County Sheriff’s Office, Aparicio died in the early evening of Friday, March 10, 2017, when her green, 1994 Ford Escort went off the north side of Solomon Road onto the dirt shoulder and into a concrete ditch just east of the San Simon Bridge. The vehicle dragged in the cement canal until it flipped and came to rest on its top north of the canal. 

Isabel Aparicio

Aparicio suffered severe head trauma with injuries to her face and back of her head, which possibly struck the concrete ditch. Officers began cardiopulmonary resuscitation and a helicopter was put on standby, but Aparicio was pronounced deceased at the scene by a doctor from Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center (MGRMC) at 6:05 p.m.

The report stated there were no signs of skid marks or any indication that the vehicle had overcorrected and that it just went straight off the road prior to hitting the ditch. There were no signs of impairment from the driver or passenger, and the investigating officer listed speed as a contributing factor to the crash.

At the time, Sais allegedly told investigators that he was in the front passenger seat looking out the window when Aparicio called out his name and he looked forward and saw the vehicle going off the roadway. Sais only suffered cuts to his legs and advised that he believed Aparicio was speeding when the crash occurred.

One of the difficulties for prosecutors in proving their case against Sais was the initial belief that Aparicio’s death was simply a motor vehicle accident. By the time authorities believed something more sinister had actually occurred, Aparicio’s body had been cremated and tangible evidence was nary to be found.  

However, investigators discovered subsequent information that indicated Sais was not fully forthcoming in his previous statements. Some of the new information included a cell phone video of an argument Sais and Aparicio had while driving just prior to the crash in which Sais yells at Aparicio, calling her names and advising her that if she didn’t stop the car he would “(expletive deleted) her up.”

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald: Investigators re-examined Aparicio’s Ford Escort, pictured here after being towed to the Graham County Highway Yard, and determined that Jace Sais couldn’t have been where he said he was located during the crash.

An investigator then examined the wrecked car that was being stored at the Graham County Maintenance Yard and deduced that Sais couldn’t have been in the front passenger seat as he claimed or he would have suffered severe injuries due to the damage to the car. 

Sais was then interviewed again and allegedly admitted to having the argument with Aparicio prior to the crash. He then allegedly said that he climbed into the backseat, grabbed Aparicio’s throat, and choked her as the car approached the bridge. 

Standing in front of Judge Scales, a factual basis for why Sais pleaded guilty to negligent homicide and aggravated assault was given, and Sais admitted to negligently causing Aparicio’s death. Judge Scales then accepted the plea agreement and guilty plea. Sentencing is set for Aug. 19, starting at 10 a.m. in front of Judge Scales at the Graham County Courthouse.

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald: Sentencing will take place at the Graham County Courthouse on Aug. 19.