The driver charged for the hit-and-run that killed UF student Margaret “Maggie” Paxton will serve six years in prison, a judge ruled Friday.
Joshua Figueroa, a 32-year-old Gainesville resident, must also pay a restitution of $3,428.95 to the Paxton family, serve 15 years of felony probation and complete 120 hours of community service in a trauma center or hospital, Judge Phillip Pena ruled.
He will lose his driver's license for 10 years and complete a victim impact panel or a driver’s improvement course after his sentence.
No sentence would equal what happened to Paxton, Pena said.
The decision would help bring some resolution to the family, said Darry Lloyd, the chief investigator for the State Attorney’s office, but it will be a challenging time.
“Nothing that happened today is going to bring Maggie back,” Lloyd said.
Figueroa was driving on West University Avenue Dec. 9, 2020, when he struck Paxton, who was crossing the intersection of West University Avenue and Gale Lemerand Drive. He left the scene without giving medical aid or personal information about himself or the vehicle, according to a Gainesville Police Department press release. Police found Paxton may have crossed the road against the light and outside of the crosswalk, according to WUFT News.
Paxton’s death evoked community outrage over a need for better safety for pedestrians. The incident led to “Florida Not One More,” a student group advocating to make University Avenue and other roads in Gainesville safer, and The Alligator published Crossing Gainesville, a project analyzing the impact of crashes, programs and enforcement.
GPD arrested Figueroa July 1, 2021, after an almost six-month-long investigation. Police found his car at his father’s auto shop.
Figueroa initially pleaded “not guilty” but changed his plea to no contest and sought the minimum of a four-year sentence March 28. The judge denied both.
Figueroa had been hospitalized since Sunday and could not participate in the scheduled June 8 hearing, according to a WUFT article. The hearing resumed Friday, but Figueroa did not offer an official statement. The only reference to his hospitalization Friday was to confirm he was not on medication affecting his decision for the new plea.
Pena referenced letters from Paxton’s friends and family that described her as a determined, fierce competitor and a vibrant, enthusiastic ray of sunshine. Her mother, Lisa Paxton, teared up alongside other family members.
Pena said he received more letters during this case than any other case he has presided over in 10 years.
James Paxton, Paxton’s father, said he appreciated GPD’s effort to identify Figueroa and everyone who wrote impact letters to Pena, which James thought were vital to Figueroa’s sentencing.
He said although the final decision took longer than expected, he was overwhelmed and thankful a decision was made. He added it will be a tough six years for Figueroa.
“It took a little while, but we’re patient, and our faith tells us to be patient and look towards God,” James said.
He looked forward to moving past this moment to celebrate Maggie’s life and who she impacted, he said, though he did not know if closure was the right word to describe the moment.
Jackson Reyes is a UF journalism senior and The Alligator's Fall 2023 Sports Editor. He previously served as Digital Managing Editor and was a reporter and assistant editor on the sports desk. In his free time, he enjoys collecting records, long walks on the beach and watching Bo Nix.