A former candidate for San Jose City Council has been sentenced to six months in county jail for killing Santa Cruz resident, Timothy Starkey.
On Tuesday, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Jose Franco ordered Jennifer Higgins to surrender herself on Sept. 24 for her six-month jail sentence. He also ordered her to serve two years of probation and pay $183,857 in restitution to Starkey’s wife, Kathleen.
Judge Franco also reduced Higgins’ felony conviction to a misdemeanor.
Starkey’s family issued a statement after the sentencing:
“We are deeply disappointed that the negligent taking of Tim Starkey’s life could result in a reduced sentence that is nothing more than a slap on the wrist,” the statement reads. “He was a beloved husband, father, uncle, cousin and friend to so many people, and Jennifer Higgins killed him. That the woman who carelessly gambled with and took his life from us should get off with such a light sentence is an insult and affront to our family and the many people whose lives he touched. We are profoundly downhearted, but this is not the end of our quest for justice for Tim Starkey.”
Higgins, who pleaded no contest to charges related to vehicular manslaughter, apologized to Starkey’s family before her sentencing.
“I truly wanted to say sorry to the Starkey family, but I’m not sure there are words that can express how truly sorry I am for your loss,” Higgins said. “Your honor, whatever you tell me I need to do, I will do, 100%. I’m sorry that we’re all here.”
On Dec. 16, 2019, Higgins was returning from a meeting at San Jose City Hall when she struck and killed Starkey, a 66-year-old who was unloading a car on the shoulder of the road in Los Gatos.
Investigators from the Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police Department found Higgins curled up in the fetal position on the sidewalk crying, according to a police report. A witness told officers that she saw Higgins swerving her car and nearly called 911 to report an intoxicated driver.
Higgins told police at the scene she was heading to a pharmacy in Los Gatos to pick up a prescription. She did not display signs of alcohol intoxication, according to the report, but she was foggy on other details of the crash. Higgins said she may have been taking off her jacket before the collision happened.
“I don’t know what I did,” she said in the incident report. “I know I killed him, it’s all my fault.”
After the accident, Higgins tested positive for benzodiazepine, a medication prescribed sometimes for anxiety and insomnia, according to her blood toxicology report.
Higgins’ lawyer, Josh Bentley, told the court his client was not intoxicated, on her cellphone or otherwise distracted the morning of Dec. 16, 2019, when she struck and killed Starkey. He said she could have lied about what happened but did not.
“Higgins owned her responsibility at the scene and has never wavered from that,” Bentley said during the hearing. He did not respond to a request from San José Spotlight for comment.
Speaking before the court, Starkey’s widow Kathleen described her husband of 37 years as a loving man who hugged her every morning when they left the house. She said her family’s life has been deeply impacted ever since sheriff’s deputies showed up at her front door to tell her Starkey was dead.
“I sank into a deep hole of grief,” Kathleen said. “How could Tim be gone instantly?”
Starkey’s daughter, Bridget, told the court she learned about her father dying while traveling by plane to San Francisco on her way back to Santa Cruz for the holidays. She said he was a loving father, and that she wept in a flight attendant’s lap when she learned he died.
“People just naturally gravitated toward him,” Bridget said. “He loved and shared his passions, notably cooking and music.”
Joe Starkey told the court his father was a generous and doting father. He spent a year flying back and forth each week from a job in Los Angeles to the family’s home in Santa Rosa because he didn’t want to force his children to move.
“He was always there for me when I needed him,” Joe said, adding that he will be haunted by all of the things he will never get to learn from his father.
The Starkey family’s lawyer, Timothy Lundell, told San José Spotlight the family is still discussing whether to file a civil suit.