Prosecutor Says Hit-and-Run Suspect, Family Hid Evidence

Argues Lau Van Hyunh is Flight Risk, But Judge Reduces Bail to $200,000

Friday, February 1, 2013
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The family of Lau Van Huynh — the 78-year-old Murrieta man arrested in connection with the hit-and-run death of Simon Chavez — impeded authorities’ criminal investigation, thus proving he is a flight risk, a prosecutor alleged during a bail reduction hearing Friday morning in Santa Barbara Superior Court.

Chavez, a 22-year-old Santa Barbara resident, was walking in the southbound lanes of Highway 101 when he was struck and killed around 1 a.m. on January 15. No vehicle stopped. A spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Department said Friday a toxicology report for Chavez was not yet available.

Lau Van Huynh
Click to enlarge photo


Lau Van Huynh

Prosecutor Sanford Horowitz said authorities were able to use security footage from the Chumash Casino — Huynh had apparently spent 13 hours there with his wife prior to the accident — to track him to his Murrieta home.

When a CHP investigator made a house call, Huynh’s daughter answered the door but allegedly denied that she knew Lau Van Hyunh. She also denied knowing anything about a white Hyundai. But walking away from the home, the officer apparently spotted the Hyundai through a garage window. A search warrant was issued, and the vehicle was seized.

Horowitz said the car had been washed “in an attempt to destroy evidence,” but that there were human hair fibers still lodged in parts of the exterior. Damage to the front of the car was consistent with a vehicle-versus-pedestrian collision, Sgt. Andrew Chapman said in testimony Friday, and evidence at the scene of the collision matched damage to the vehicle.

Horowitz also alleged that Huynh was planning to go to Las Vegas, and neighbors purportedly told authorities Huynh and his wife had packed bags and told them they were headed to Vietnam.

Huynh son, Viet Huynh, denied this. Viet Huynh said he and his siblings would’ve known if his parents were traveling internationally because he lives with them and would’ve made the travel arrangements. He said the trip to Vegas was not an attempt to flee, but a trip they had already talked about and planned.

Simon Chavez
Click to enlarge photo


Simon Chavez

Chavez was in between the highway’s number two and three lanes when he was hit by the Hyundai, which Horowitz said was driven by Huynh with his wife in the passenger seat. “Neither party called law enforcement,” Horowitz said. “Neither party called 911. Neither party stopped the car.”

Horowitz said Huynh had back surgery less than a month ago and was prescribed to take a painkiller four times a day, which Horowitz suggested could have impaired his driving. Horowitz noted another driver, who was sober, saw Chavez on the highway before the accident and was able to slow down and avoid hitting him.

Sgt. Chapman also testified Friday that it appeared when Huynh came to the CHP station with his son that the son used “slight of hand” to delete text messages from a phone that was ultimately taken under a search warrant. A forensic look at the phone confirmed this, Chapman said.

All of this information, Horowitz said, was enough to show that Huynh is a flight risk, one of the top criteria for holding someone on a higher bail.

But Huynh’s attorney Peter Chang said there were many assertions of fact that have yet to be proven in the case. He noted Hyunh had lived in California for 20 years, was advanced in age, had a clean criminal history and driving record, and possessed strong family ties to the state. He also noted Huynh is charged with a single count of hit-and-run.

While Horowitz asked Judge Clifford Anderson to keep bail at $1 million, Anderson lowered it to $200,000, an amount still too high for the family to pay, apparently. Should he post bail, Huynh would have to turn in his passport, enroll in an electronic monitoring program, refrain from driving, and stay out of Santa Barbara County except for court appearances.

Huynh will be back in court later this month for a preliminary hearing during which the judge will determine whether there is enough evidence for him to stand trial.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

A single count of hit and run? Shouldn't that be a single count of 2nd degree murder or manslaughter? If I was him I would plead guilty to that and call double jeapordy when they come around with the murder charge.

AZ2SB (anonymous profile)
February 1, 2013 at 7:26 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Sorry, AZ2SB, wrong yet again. When the decedent broke the law by being in the traffic lanes, there is no basis for a crime of murder. The only crime was fleeing the scene, as Chavez was not where he was supposed to be.

sbdude (anonymous profile)
February 1, 2013 at 11:03 p.m. (Suggest removal)

One would think manslaughter at least but this was an accident aggravated by the hit and run, and withholding evidence charges. Both serious jail time situations.

samuel (anonymous profile)
February 2, 2013 at 3:10 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Where exactly as Chavez? As I've stated before I've read in local news sources he had been dropped off by a taxi on the 101. Was he on an on/off ramp? That might account for the his being hit on the left side of the car as also reported while not necessarily being in the traffic lanes left side evidence suggests. Wonder if they'll be able to ascertain whether Huyhn was intoxicated.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
February 2, 2013 at 3:15 p.m. (Suggest removal)

In addition, the CHP/police reports say Chavez was ALONGside the 101- not in lanes.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
February 2, 2013 at 3:21 p.m. (Suggest removal)

A guy died and someone both 1) tried to cover it up (denial about the car, said car cleaned up but with human fibers still attached, "disappearing" text messages) and 2) did not come forth about the incident. Bottom line, this man (and likely his family) knew what he did was wrong. Shameful.

GDogMama (anonymous profile)
February 2, 2013 at 3:30 p.m. (Suggest removal)

And before we blame the victim, let's recognize that no matter how intoxicated he was or wasn't, he still attempted to behave responsibly- he wasn't driving! And per reports called a cab!

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
February 2, 2013 at 3:41 p.m. (Suggest removal)

One question I would ask. Would any of us been able to avoid a drunk staggering all over the freeway? Maybe, maybe not. I don't think this guy likely committed a crime when he hit him unless he was impaired. Even then it should only be DUI. His crime was running from the scene. Hit and run is an appropriate charge, murder or manslaughter definitely are not.

Botany (anonymous profile)
February 2, 2013 at 4:31 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I think manslaughter if sober, murder if drunk.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
February 2, 2013 at 4:55 p.m. (Suggest removal)

IMHO, when you try to hide evidence, you have committed an even greater crime.

GDogMama (anonymous profile)
February 2, 2013 at 7:38 p.m. (Suggest removal)

If the victim was in a crosswalk on State St., yeah manslaughter or even murder. But you really don't expect to see too many pedestrians staggering in the number 2 lane on the freeway, and speeds aren't usually conducive to doing something about it. Unless there is clear evidence he actually tried to run this guy down, I don't see how you charge him with murder or manslaughter.

Botany (anonymous profile)
February 2, 2013 at 8:26 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Where is it said in any police report that the victim was in the number two lane? In all the reports the victim was seen alongside the 101 which could include ramps.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
February 2, 2013 at 8:28 p.m. (Suggest removal)

This is the first article that has stated the victim was in lanes.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
February 2, 2013 at 8:31 p.m. (Suggest removal)

From Indy on Jan. 28th:
"Chavez, according to the CHP, was staggering ALONG the southbound lanes .."
From Jan 16th by the Indy's Tyler Hayden:
"According to the CHP, Chavez was staggering along the southbound lanes of Highway 101 between the Ortega Street overcrossing and the Castillo Street offramp at around 1 a.m. when he was struck."

I think the original reports are correct and Meagher's is erroneous.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
February 2, 2013 at 8:54 p.m. (Suggest removal)

"Chavez was in between the highway’s number two and three lanes when he was hit by the Hyundai, which Horowitz said was driven by Huynh with his wife in the passenger seat."

This is according to the prosecutor in the case. Certainly, if the facts in the case are different, I may come to a different conclusion.

Botany (anonymous profile)
February 3, 2013 at 5:22 a.m. (Suggest removal)

To clarify, the original press release from the CHP said Chavez was staggering "within" the southbound lanes.

Friday, the prosecutor said Chavez was between the no. 2 and no. 3 lanes.

Chris (Chris Meagher)
February 3, 2013 at 11:31 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Jeez, it's a wonder he got that far. No more reports of a taxi?

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
February 3, 2013 at 11:35 a.m. (Suggest removal)

All of you are arguing that this driver is to blame for Chavez' death? What the heck was Chavez doing on the Highway in the first place? No matter what caused him to be there, no driver should be held responsible for hitting and killing him.

What was the Hyunh supposed to do? If he even had a chance to see Chavez, what should he have done? Swerve and end up killing or maiming both himself and his passenger/wife? Get real.

Does anyone really think that driving on a highway at 65 mph is conducive to any kind of avoidance tactics? At night? The one driver (and any others) avoided hitting Chavez by sheer luck, nothing more.

If anyone is to blame, besides the dead man, it is whoever drugged or beat him senseless ---- if it so happens that he wasn't just drunk or drugged by his own volition.

So, Hyunh went home and tried to conceal he had hit some guy on the highway . . . Who wouldn't have panicked? And his kids tried to help with the cover-up. Personally, I think Hyunh and his family are the victims. As such they have suffered plenty already. I bet he does no time at all. And I, for one, think that would be proper justice.

chilldrinfthenight (anonymous profile)
February 4, 2013 at 1:43 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Who wouldn't have done the right thing and stopped and at the very least called an ambulance?
The Huynh's aren't victims, they're symptomatic of the "me" society.
There are reports a taxi dumped Chavez off on the freeway.
If I were to hit anyone I would stop. It's the human thing to do.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
February 4, 2013 at 1:55 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I'm driving down the freeway in the middle of the night, chatting away with my wife after a long day when suddenly, completely out of nowhere, a man is in my lane and I have no time to avoid him. Or maybe I didn't see what I hit, but I know something was there and now there's a high likelihood that cops are soon to be involved. Now, I'm a 78-year-old man with no criminal history or anything, so I'm pretty sure that I kept a lid on my drinking, but was a long day, and even if I don't feel intoxicated there's a chance I'm over .08. Not to mention the fact that I'm a Vietnamese immigrant. Now I'm faced with a choice: do I try to ignore what just happened--someone will definitely come along soon to call 911 and the damage is done by no fault of my own--or do I put myself in a position to spend the rest of my life in jail for vehicular manslaughter? It's easy to say you'd stop. I hope I'd stop. But I have seen the way the law is applied nowadays. Fairness, rationality, and justice are not a part of it. I can't say with certainty that I'd stop, and I think it's fairly simplistic to paint this as a black-and-white situation. Especially given the fact that alcohol is not a proven factor, just part of my theoretical scenario. He could just as easily panicked while stone sober.

3domfighter (anonymous profile)
February 4, 2013 at 9:11 a.m. (Suggest removal)

(This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of use policy.)

Riceman (anonymous profile)
February 4, 2013 at 2:33 p.m.

Really crass racism there Riceman.

Botany (anonymous profile)
February 4, 2013 at 3:16 p.m. (Suggest removal)

you said it true Botany, hafta BC ways, Riceman is not a nice man.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
February 4, 2013 at 3:22 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I saw the comment and it was absolutely racist, but consdiring his intolerance for people who believe in God I'm not suprised. Bigotry can consume a person.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
February 4, 2013 at 9:12 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Lets not forget the 2 good Samaritans who confessed to being in the area of an SB fire about 2 years ago who were prosecuted criminally for being responsible. DA Joyce Dudley makes me think differently now about being honest. Or running against her and being fired, though my name ain't Josh.
1am, dark, 65 mph is 30 yards per second, car lights don't shine that far. Add dark clothing...ask yourself if you've personally seen pedestrians on the freeway at 1 am...Not me in 40 years. If you see animals on the freeway- KILL THEM, don't swerve, too dangerous. I do mean animals, not a people reference disguised innuendoely.

khiggler (anonymous profile)
February 5, 2013 at 8:52 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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