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San Diego Union-Tribune
By Onell R. Soto, UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
3:19 p.m. November 19, 2003
EL CAJON – The Ramona man accused of taking four Lakeside postal workers hostage last May pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges that could send him to prison for up to 15 years. decided to forgo a trial scheduled to begin this week in favor of a plea bargain, said defense lawyer Kerry Steigerwalt. The 40-year-old de Santiago pleaded guilty to kidnapping and gun possession, and prosecutors dropped charges for which he could have faced life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Witnesses testified in court earlier that de Santiago walked into the Lakeside post office with a rifle and ammunition May 28 and started a four-hour hostage standoff that ended only when he was offered a six-pack of Dr Pepper soda. Nobody was injured. One of the hostages said Wednesday he was satisfied with the plea bargain. “We can move on and put it behind us,” said Lakeside Postmaster Jimmy Dean.
In a recent interview, de Santiago’s family said his actions that day are inexcusable but that he acted out of desperation, frustrated by a justice system unresponsive to his worsening health after a crash with a postal truck. His truck crashed with a postal truck May 6, 2001, on state Route 67 and Willow Road, not far from the Lakeside post office. He filed a lawsuit against the Postal Service but became despondent because it was not resolved, while the pain from his injuries increased along with doctors’ bills, his relatives said. The crash caused serious back injuries that never healed right, and progressed to the point of paralysis that threw de Santiago off balance, said his mother, Julia Lozano.
He was prescribed painkillers and psychiatric drugs for his mood swings, according to medical records. By May of this year, de Santiago was acting strangely, family and friends say. His relatives said the punishment he faces is too severe, but the prosecutor defended it as fair.
‘Albert will forever have remorse for what he’s done,’ said his sister, Gina Dempski. ‘He’ll never be able to forgive himself.’ She called the proposed sentence too harsh because her brother was under the influence of prescription drugs and wasn’t himself that day. ‘I think the justice system is not being very fair at this point,’ she said. ‘They should take the Prozac into consideration.’ Prosecutors say they can’t. ‘There have been a lot of cases involving Prozac,’ said prosecutor William Collins. ‘There’s never been any real research. It’s anecdotal.’ He called this case straightforward. ‘He had a lawsuit pending against the post office, and he went to the post office with a gun and asked to speak to the boss,’ he said. ‘He did something stupid, but he knew what he was doing.’