SAN DIEGO — Sentencing for a hit-and-run driver is scheduled for July 26, and the victim’s family and friends are calling for more than just probation.
The body of Sho Funai, 23, an associate engineer at Goodrich Aerostructures in Chula Vista, was found on the morning of March 11 on the roadside at the Nimitz Boulevard onramp to the eastbound Interstate 8. The San Diego Fire Department sent paramedics, but Funai was pronounced dead at the scene.
Funai was born in Torrance and graduated from Palos Verdes High School in 2006 and UC San Diego with a degree in structural engineering in 2010. He continued at UCSD as a teaching assistant and a graduate student researcher studying the impact of hail ice on composite structures.
Services were held on March 17 at Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple in Los Angeles. Survivors include his parents, Yuji and Kazue; brothers, Daisuke and Go; and grandmother, Teruko Sogabe, who lives in Japan.
Funai was posthumously awarded a master’s degree on June 16.
Nikolette Kristina Gallo, then 18, of Rancho Peñasquitos was arrested on suspicion of felony hit-and-run. She pleaded not guilty on March 20 and was allowed by San Diego Superior Court Judge David Szumowski to remain out of custody on $50,000 bond.
The California Highway Patrol quoted Gallo as saying that she had just dropped off a friend in Ocean Beach and was returning home when she thought she hit a sofa or some other kind of furniture; when she saw a news report about Funai’s death, she told her father, who contacted an attorney, who notified the CHP. Investigators found that Gallo’s 2007 Toyota Camry had significant front-end damage.
Gallo’s lawyer, A. King Aminpour, told U-T San Diego that no drunk-driving charges were filed against his client, but to show the public that she did not pose a safety risk, she agreed to wear a device that will alert authorities if she consumes any alcohol.
Aminpour acknowledged that Gallo exercised poor judgment “by possibly not stopping at the time of the accident.”
According to a search warrant obtained by 10News, a CHP officer noticed a slight odor of an alcoholic beverage on Gallo’s breath when he interviewed her more than five hours after the crash, and she admitted that she drank three or four shots of vodka at a party earlier that night. The CHP also interviewed a man who bought the vodka for Gallo because she was a minor.
When the CHP interviewed Gallo’s friend Haley Bertrand, who was with her at the party, she said that the two later discussed what the object in the road might have been, and speculated that it was a coyote. Asked if they talked about the possibility that the object was a person, Bertrand said, “I don’t want to say.”
On June 11, Gallo, now 19, pleaded guilty to a felony charge of hit-and-run causing death and a misdemeanor count of being a minor in possession of alcohol.
Daisuke Funai has started an online petition directed at Superior Court Judge Dwayne Moring, who has stated that he would “strongly consider” probation and some sort of custody or alternatives to custody at the time of sentencing, citing Gallo’s lack of a criminal record. Sho Funai’s family and friends are urging the judge to reconsider.
In the petition, Daisuke Funai charges that the investigation was mishandled and that the district attorney was not aggressive enough, failing to file DUI or vehicular manslaughter charges despite the fact that Gallo had been drinking, and worries that Gallo may receive “the lowest punishment possible by law” for “the killing and abandoning of a pedestrian.”
Funai is urging supporters to send victim impact letters to the judge by July 17 and to attend the sentencing.
Steve Walker, communications director for the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, told The Rafu Shimpo, “Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Mr. Funai. After a thorough review of the facts and evidence, the defendant in this case was charged with felony hit-and-run causing death and possession of alcohol by a minor. In every case, the District Attorney’s Office can only file charges when we believe we can prove them beyond a reasonable doubt — which is our ethical burden.”
Among those expressing outrage is Aileen Willoughby, who works at Palos Verdes High School. “Sho was a fantastic student — high achieving, athletic, intelligent, personable, kind, humble — a really outstanding individual with a very promising future. They didn’t come much better than Sho,” she said.
“We were shocked and devastated to hear the news at school … This case reeks of injustice … This is terribly wrong and word needs to get out. I am so incensed that I am hoping to make it to San Diego on July 26. Not only is this so criminal, but what is the Funai family feeling like now, on top of dealing with his tragic death? What if this was my child?”
(An open letter to the public from Daisuke Funai appears here.)