What might have been the grapes of wrath turned into the grapes of kindness last week in the Salinas Valley.
A 19-year-old high school dropout who went on a midnight joyride through the San Vicente Vineyards in Soledad caused $42,000 in damage to the grape vines, but he won't have to pay for the damage if he goes to college and graduates.If he decides to get a job instead of going back to school, he will have to pay only $5,000 in restitution.
Peter Mirassou, one of the partners in his family's vineyards, made the offer to Guadalupe Marin of Soledad, the youth who vandalized his vines on May 8.
"It's the first time in 20 years on the bench that I've seen anything like this," said Superior Court Judge Harkjoon Paik.
Victims of crimes tend to come to court bent on vengeance, but Mirassou's generous gesture furnishes a rare example of something entirely positive, Paik said.
"It epitomizes the very best of Christian charity," the judge added.
Marin pleaded guilty to felony vandalism and taking a car without the owner's permission. He faced 16 months in the California Youth Authority and could have been ordered to make full restitution for the rampage.
His attorney, Cynthia Jewett, asked Mirassou to consider reducing the restitution to a "realistic" figure. Marin dropped out of high school in his senior year and his only jobs since then have been transplanting seedlings in the fields and stocking merchandise in a grocery store.
Mirassou sent her a letter saying he was willing to have Marin pay $5,000 over a five-year period.
"Should Mr. Marin decide to not continue school, the payback should then be monthly, beginning as soon as Mr. Marin obtains a job," said Mirassou in the letter, attached to the court file.
"If however Mr. Marin returns to school and graduates on schedule, I will drop the $5,000 to $0 - if I am furnished with copies of report cards, notices of progress and a graduation certificate."
Mirassou, whose family has been making wine since 1854, concluded by saying:
"Maybe Mr. Marin will return the favor to someone else some day and make the world a better place to live in."
According to the court file, Marin stole a car on the night of May 7-8, crashed it through a barbed wire fence into the vineyard, and proceeded to plow through rows of grape vines. Tire tracks showed that the car swerved off a dirt paths to mow the vines down.
At 7 a.m. on May 8, a neighbor discovered the damage and found the stolen car, which had been burned. Two other cars were stolen that same night in Soledad, and one of them was also torched.
Marin confessed his involvement in the crimes when he was arrested 10 days later, saying he was on a drunken spree with a juvenile. He said the juvenile was the driver who wrecked the vines, but prosecutors said there was insufficient evidence and declined to file charges.
Making an inventory of the damage, Mirassou said that each grapevine is worth $400 because it has to be tended three to five years before it begins to produce. There were 103 vines destroyed in the rampage, for a total loss of $41,200, he said.
Paik sentenced Marin to three years in prison but suspended the sentence. After serving a year in the county jail, Marin is to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings every week and perform 100 hours of community service.
"Upon receipt of a bachelor's degree from any four-year college within five years of his release from jail, $42,000 in restitution will be forgiven and vacated," Paik's order says.
Marin accepted the offer and promised Paik not to blow it.