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Lau Van Huynh leaves the courtroom after he's sentenced to three years of probation and 365 days in jail

Paul Wellman

Lau Van Huynh leaves the courtroom after he's sentenced to three years of probation and 365 days in jail


Emotions Run Deep at Sentencing Hearing

Lau Van Huynh Pleaded Guilty to Hitting and Killing Simon Chavez


Thursday, April 4, 2013
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Simon Chavez was a down-to-earth, caring, 22-year-old who loved his family and baseball and whose time on earth was cut short, emotional family members told a Santa Barbara judge Thursday at the sentencing hearing for Lau Van Huynh, the Murrieta man driving the vehicle that hit and killed Chavez on Highway 101 early in the morning of January 15.

Chavez was walking in one of the lanes of southbound Highway 101 when he was struck. The vehicle did not stop, and Chavez died. Huynh, driving back to Murrieta with his wife after spending 13 hours at the Chumash Casino, pleaded guilty to felony hit-and-run last month. It is not known why Chavez was walking in the highway. In accordance with a plea deal, Huynh was sentenced Thursday to three years of probation and 365 days in jail. He had served 69 days and received 68 days of good time/work time credit.

Judge Jean Dandona at the sentencing hearing of Lau Van Huynh
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman

Judge Jean Dandona at the sentencing hearing of Lau Van Huynh

As Chavez’s family members stood up to tell Judge Jean Dandona about the impact of their lost loved one, Huynh sat quietly throughout the hearing, looking down at a table while an interpreter translated for him. He did look up when Chavez’s stepfather asked him to look at a photo of Chavez. He told Huynh his family forgave him for killing Chavez, but cannot forgive him for not stopping, a “selfish” move.

Other relatives talked about Chavez’s contagious laugh and selfless attitude. He was taking classes at City College to become a history teacher and coach high school baseball. He was volunteering his time as coach of Santa Barbara High’s junior varsity team, relatives said. “He touched so many people’s lives,” his cousin, Ivan Arroyo said. He was a champion and protector for his younger brother, who has autism, and helped tutor his younger sister in math. “My cousin Simon was a huge part of this family and he will always be with us,” said Jesse Martinez.

At a hearing in March, prosecutor Sanford Horowitz presented evidence suggesting Huynh, 78, and his family not only didn’t report the collision to authorities but also attempted to cover up his involvement, washing the vehicle and denying he lived at his home when authorities tried to contact him there. “How is it possible that someone else can hit another human being and not stop?” asked Martinez.

Huynh didn’t utter a word until the very end of the hearing, when he asked the judge when he could go home. After she explained she couldn’t tell him the exact day, he had brief words for those who had spoken. “Your honor,” he said through the interpreter. “I would like to apologize to the family.”

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What is missing from the story (not just this publication, but also from what I saw on KEYT) is what was Van Huynh's excuse for doing what he did.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
April 5, 2013 at 1:24 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Which was?

fredb93117 (anonymous profile)
April 5, 2013 at 6:39 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Huynh shouldn't be held responsible for killing Chavez, but he should be held responsible for fleeing the scene and attempting to cover it up. Assuming Huynh has no previous criminal record, I think this sentence is a bit harsh though.

Botany (anonymous profile)
April 5, 2013 at 7:20 a.m. (Suggest removal)

What's missing is an explanation for why the victim was "staggering in lanes" on the freeway as reported by several witnesses. I can understand the family transferring their grief and anger onto Huynh, but he is guilty of leaving the scene, not manslaughter. Had Huynh stopped, it appears that no crime would have been committed and the victim would still be deceased.

The whole truth is not being told here. Why was the victim staggering around on the freeway in the first place?

menchar (anonymous profile)
April 5, 2013 at 7:54 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I think the point is that Chavez would be dead whether Huynh stopped or not. Driving away and hiding it is the crime.

Botany (anonymous profile)
April 5, 2013 at 8:10 a.m. (Suggest removal)

For what it's worth, had Van Huynh simply stopped and reported what happened, it would have helped the family of the dead man achieve some closure and wouldn't have added insult onto (fatal) injury.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
April 5, 2013 at 3:33 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Didn't this happen at like 2 or 3am?? How many people were in the car with him? Any kids? Is he not a citizen? If I wasn't a citizen I'd be scared to pull over for something like that too, especially if it wasn't my fault.

Maybe he had .03 blood alcohol, which had zero effect on his ability to avoid hitting the 'pedestrian', but would have landed him a DUI and manslaughter charge? In that case, I guess he made the right decision by fleeing. Maybe we need to change our arbitrary drinking laws so people aren't walking on eggshells to get home with a reasonable BAC and potentially hurting others just because of the law. It's legal to fine-tune your radio and kill somebody who was doing something wrong, but if there's any alcohol in your system which had nothing to do with the accident all of a sudden your completely screwed.

loonpt (anonymous profile)
April 8, 2013 at 11:56 a.m. (Suggest removal)