Rafu Staff and Wire Reports
SAN DIEGO — A sentencing hearing concluded Friday for a 19-year-old woman who drank and smoked marijuana before a hit-and-run crash on an Ocean Beach freeway that left an aspiring engineer dead.
NBC San Diego reported that Nikolette Kristina Gallo was sentenced to one year in jail and five years of probation for causing the March 11 death of 23-year-old Sho Funai, who was studying for his master’s degree in engineering at UC San Diego.
She could have received probation or up to four years in jail. She was not charged with DUI or vehicular manslaughter. After the judge indicated that Gallo might receive a light sentence due to her lack of a criminal record and other mitigating factors, Funai’s family and friends mobilized to call for harsher punishment.
“We don’t feel the sentence reflects the seriousness of the crime,” Funai’s older brother, Daisuke, told U-T San Diego. “We are heartbroken beyond repair.”
On Thursday, the victim’s father, Yuji, testified that the defendant was not remorseful and was trying to escape responsibility for his son’s death.
“We need to send the right message,” he told Judge Dwayne Moring. “It is not OK to kill somebody and run away.”
Other speakers included Funai’s mother, Kazue — who told the judge, “My son is not road kill” — and brother Go. As they testified, many in the audience wept.
Gallo pleaded guilty last month to felony hit-and-run causing death and a misdemeanor count of being a minor in possession of alcohol.
The defendant was taken into custody at her home nearly eight hours after a passer-by found the victim’s body alongside Interstate 8, just east of Nimitz Boulevard, said California Highway Patrol Officer Art Athans.
Family and friends said Funai had a habit of walking home to avoid drinking and driving. He was new to Ocean Beach and apparently lost his way the night he was killed.
Prosecutor Rebecca Zipp said the victim had a blood-alcohol level of .17 percent when he was hit.
Gallo told investigators she had just dropped off a friend in the beach area and was on her way home when she hit what she thought was a discarded sofa or a coyote. The next morning, she saw news coverage of the pedestrian fatality and told her father she feared she may have been the motorist involved, Athans said.
They contacted an attorney, who got in touch with the CHP and said investigating officers could meet with his clients at the Gallo home. There, they got a statement from the teenager, who admitted to drinking prior to the accident, and they inspected her 2007 Toyota Camry, which had significant front-end damage, according to Athans.
Defense attorney Paul Pfingst alleged that the victim was walking in the middle of the road when he was hit by Gallo, and was therefore at fault — an argument that Funai’s family rejected.
During the hearing, Gallo said in a statement, “I want to sincerely say how sorry I am for the loss of your son. I am in pain every minute of every single day. I will be regretting my actions for the rest of my life.”
“Intense and Emotional”
Daisuke Funai initiated an online petition calling for “justice” in Gallo’s sentencing. More than 13,000 people have signed.
Thursday’s hearing was attended by local supporters as well as about 100 people who came from Los Angeles, some on a chartered bus. Sho Funai was a native of Torrance and a graduate of Palos Verdes High School.
In a message to supporters on Friday morning, the older brother — who came from New York for the hearing — said, “We can’t thank you enough for all that you’ve done and for coming out yesterday. It was an intense and emotional time, and unfortunately, because of the delay, we have to go back today. On top of that, I know many people were not able to get in the courtroom.
“Whether you were inside or waiting in the halls, please know that we think it made a tremendous impact on the judge. We will see today, but regardless of the outcome, we want you to know how touched we are by your efforts. It is a true testament to the lives Sho touched. The Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) representative again told me that she’s never seen anything like this in her 23-year career.
“We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. We can’t ask for much more.”