Judge Jean Dandona’s courtroom was packed with people Tuesday morning, but it was also filled with an immeasurable amount of sadness, anger, and regret as well as the remembrance of fond memories.
As friends and family remembered Carolyn Samuels for the great person she was — an AmeriCorps volunteer at age 66, a friend to her daughters, a kind and doting grandmother, and a giving person — Gregory Doan, the man whose actions killed her, sat listening intently before addressing the courtroom himself. “I need to tell you how sorry I am for the pain and frustration and anger I have caused you,” a crying Doan told Samuels’s two daughters.
Doan was under the influence the morning of August 30, 2008, when a van he was driving veered off Las Positas Road and hit Samuels while almost striking several others. He was sentenced on Tuesday to 35 years and four months in prison after pleading no contest to one charge of vehicular manslaughter with an enhancement of fleeing the scene, 19 counts of assault with a deadly weapon (for driving his car into the group of runners), and one charge of transportation of heroin.
Doan chose not to go to trial, instead agreeing to spend what will likely amount to the majority of the rest of his life in prison as a result of his actions; he wouldn’t be eligible for parole until age 75. Doan, who had four DUI-related incidents prior to 2008, told the court that “somehow I’ll find a way to be a part of the solution and not of the problem.” Jill Allen, a daughter of Samuels, said Doan should write letters to first time DUI offenders and tell them his story. “His problem was so great…it led him here,” she said.
She described her mother as a woman who was always relaxed and comforting and a great friend, mother, and grandmother. Allen talked about Samuels’s relationship with her grandchildren, how she would take them out on nature walks, to aquariums, or to their favorite diner. “Mr. Doan, what you have done is horrible and tragic and beyond belief,” she said through tears.
Her sister, Jane Samuels, with a large group of tearful supporters behind her, said her mother “loved to live” and was “unstoppable in making a difference.”
At the end of her statement, she turned to Doan and said, “I wish you well. I hope you find some salvation in this and I wish you well.”
While he asked for their forgiveness, Doan — who is the son of a minister — told them that it was only because he hoped they could find a measure of peace in doing so. “I’m incredibly sorry and there is no excuse,” he said. He told Samuels’s children, “My life is yours now and I’ll do whatever you say.”
Instead of restitution to the family, the daughters, along with their brother, worked it out with Doan and authorities so half of the money he earns while working in prison will be donated to the LA Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training.