By Penne Usher
Special to the Auburn Journal
Loomis, CA — (March 10) — A Placer County jury recently found Anna E. Berset of Folsom guilty of vehicular manslaughter for the June 13, 2007 hit-and-run death of 15-year-old Courtney Parker, a popular Granite Bay cheerleader.
The pain and anguish a family goes through after the loss of a child nearing the prime of their life is unimaginable.
However, this is not the first time a local family has suffered at the hands of the Berset family.
Josh Sanguinetti, Berset’s son, was found guilty of hit-and-run vehicular manslaughter for the Dec. 10, 1999 death of 15-year-old Robert Wyatt of Loomis. The tragedies are eerily similar.
Both Sanguinetti and Berset were traveling from Auburn to Folsom on Auburn-Folsom Road. They both struck 15-year-olds. Sanguinetti fled the scene on foot after crashing head-on into Wyatt’s truck, killing him and seriously injuring his 17-year-old sister. Berset reportedly fled to her Folsom home after running into Parker, who was walking along the dark road.
Parker died two days later as a result of her injuries. She died on what would have been Robert Wyatt’s 23rd birthday.
The first fatal crash
Jennifer Wyatt, then 17, had gone to pick her brother up at a friend’s home. Robert Wyatt was driving back to the family’s home just off Auburn-Folsom Road, when Sanguinetti slammed head-on into the teenagers’ car.
“We were chit-chatting, driving slow. We wanted to talk. The last thing I saw was headlights – very, very close,” Jennifer Wyatt said during a recent interview. “One more turn and we would have been home.”
Jennifer was thrown through the windshield by the impact. A broken windshield wiper blade pierced her neck, lower jaw, upper jaw and severed her left eye.
“The left side of her face was gone,” said her father, Doug Wyatt. “Her leg was hanging off.”
Within seconds of the crash, the Wyatts’ phone rang. Jennifer had somehow managed to hold on to her cell phone and using speed dial, called her parents before handing the phone over to a witness.
The answering machine picked up the call.
“I could hear Jennifer out of her head screaming,” Doug Wyatt said. “As soon as I heard her voice, my heart dropped.”
Doug grabbed his wife and they headed to the scene of the crash.
“It was devastating,” Doug Wyatt said. “Her insides were out and her left leg was cut off. I could smell body fluids.”
The paramedics were already at the scene and were attending to Jennifer. Doug turned his attention to the driver and realized it was his son Robert, who Doug fondly called “Bud.”
“I ran to the vehicle … it’s Bud. The vehicle was squashed. They were using two Jaws of Life to get to Jennifer. I crawled inside and held my son,” Doug Wyatt said.
Doug told his son, “I’m here,” and said he felt his son’s weight shift.
“He knew I was there and I knew I was going to lose him,” Doug Wyatt said.
Doug Wyatt said he pleaded to the Lord for his son’s life, then apologized for being “selfish.”
“He was the greatest gift I could ever have,” Doug Wyatt said. “If it’s meant Lord for Robert to go home, take him now. He collapsed in my arms.”
Josh Sanguinetti was sentenced to seven years, four months for Wyatt’s death. He served less than three years in prison and is now a free man.
During the trial, Doug Wyatt said that Sanguinetti never voiced any remorse for his actions. He maintained his innocence and was at times belligerent to the victim’s family.
“We didn’t go to the trial for very long,” Doug Wyatt said. “Josh would interrupt court and was rude. We just couldn’t go anymore.”
Sanguinetti got out of prison while Jennifer, now 27, was back in the hospital this time for intestinal problems stemming from the crash.
“We’ve never heard anything from that family,” Jennifer Wyatt said. “Nothing can bring back Robert or our broken hearts, but to have someone say they were sorry …”
A jury of six men and six women found Anna Elvira Berset guilty of vehicular manslaughter and felony hit and run for the death of 15-year-old Courtney Parker.
Berset, 52, is facing up to four years in prison and is scheduled to be sentenced March 24 in a Placer County Superior courtroom
Berset’s car collided with Courtney Parker as the 15-year-old walked along Auburn-Folsom Road shortly before 10 p.m. on June 13, 2007.
Courtney, a cheerleader at Granite Bay High, was walking with a friend near Douglas Boulevard and on her way to retrieve a cell phone when she was hit, officials said.
Prosecutors said Berset returned to her home after hitting the girl, then called police the next day to report that she was involved in some type of collision, but claimed not to know exactly what occurred.
Investigators later found a sample of Courtney’s DNA on the vehicle.
The second fatality caused by the same family, shook the Wyatts to their very core.
“I was sitting on my bed when Kelly Baraga (of the Auburn office of the California Highway Patrol) contacted me,” Jennifer Wyatt said. “Kelly told me I needed to sit down. I literally fell to the ground and started crying when she told me.”
To hear that Sanguinetti’s mother had also been involved in a fatal hit-and-run incident “floored” Jennifer Wyatt.
Baraga and Jennifer have been close since the 1999 fatality.
“After we confirmed that Anna (Berset) was in custody the very first call I made was to tell Jen,” Baraga said. “We have become very close through the years and I felt I needed to be the one to tell her.”
Baraga said she was in “shock” and “disbelief” that it was happening all over again.
For the Wyatts, the second tragedy has forced them to relive their own.
“What got me the most with the Berset case was that Courtney died on Robert’s birthday on the same road,” Jennifer Wyatt said. “It was the same road. She was a cheerleader, he was a baseball player and they were killed by members of the same family. That floored me. That was hard.”
Robert Wyatt’s room is just the way he left it in 1999. Posters of hot rods and music stars including a decade-old poster of Brittany Spears hang on the wall. Baseball trophies line the headboard like silent soldiers. Baseball jerseys encased in glass sit at the foot of the twin bed.
“We haven’t touched the room,” Doug Wyatt said.
Robert Wyatt had a promising baseball career before his life was cut short. He had been drafted by the San Diego Padres, the youngest to do so, his father said.
His sister is left with haunting memories and has endured countless surgeries.
Robert’s parents have had to pay millions of dollars in medical expenses to repair the damage to Jennifer’s face, leg, jaws and severed eye.
Doug Wyatt has let his previously successful gravel business disintegrate. He is a shadow of his former self, getting through each day by taking anti-depressants.
Having to undergo future surgeries, including a prosthetic eye replacement every three years, Jennifer Wyatt would have liked one thing from the man who maimed her – an apology.
“I would ask why have you never taken responsibility for your actions and why no remorse? “ Jennifer said. “How can you kill someone and show no remorse? I hate him.”
Two members of the same family killed two 15-year-old promising athletes nearly a decade apart, shattering two families. Neither Berset nor Sanguinetti have made public apologies to the families.
“For the Wyatts it was like reliving it all over again,” Baraga said.
Editor’s Note: Josh Sanguinetti was unavailable for comment for this story but should he choose to speak, space will be made available in a future edition.
Penne Usher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org