A 19-year-old woman who drank and smoked marijuana prior to a hit-and-run crash on an Ocean Beach freeway that left an aspiring engineer dead was sentenced Friday to a year in jail and five years probation.
Nikolette Kristina Gallo, who pleaded guilty last month to felony hit-and-run and a misdemeanor count of being a minor in possession of alcohol, could have been sentenced to as many as four years in state prison for the March 11 death of 23-year-old Sho Funai.
The victim had been studying for his master's degree in engineering at UC San Diego.
“We don't feel that the sentence matches the seriousness of the crime,” said Daisuke Funai, one of the victim's two older brothers.
“I think this sentence sends a message that our laws provide an incentive to leave the scene of a crime,” he said. “The outcome today tells other drivers under the influence of drugs and alcohol that it is advantageous to flee the scene rather than report a crash resulting in death."
He added that his family was “certainly aware that no sentence would bring Sho back and nothing could make us whole. We are heartbroken beyond repair and live day by day searching for a reason to move on.”
Superior Court Judge Dwayne Moring, in granting probation, noted that the victim was ``where he shouldn't have been,'' walking in the middle of Interstate 8 near Ocean Beach, when he was struck by Gallo, who was in her lane and driving under the posted 65 mph speed limit.
Moring said Gallo – who had no prior record – might not have been charged with any crime had she stayed at the scene.
“You're going to jail because you fled the scene,” the judge told the defendant.
Deputy District Attorney Rebecca Zipp argued unsuccessfully that Gallo deserved prison because she made a “selfish and cold” decision to leave Funai on the side of the road to die.
Zipp said Gallo called her father twice after the 4:30 a.m. accident, but failed to call 911.
The defendant was arrested after an attorney representing Gallo called authorities about five hours following the accident.
Defense attorney Paul Pfingst said Gallo “panicked” and drove home after the crash. She told authorities she thought she hit a couch or a coyote.
“My client had an obligation to stop,” Pfingst said. “She did not fulfill that obligation.”
By the time Gallo's blood was drawn, alcohol had left her system and there was no evidence of marijuana use.
Pfingst said that minutes before the fatal accident, a retired couple on their way to the airport called 911 to report a a man in dark clothing –Funai–walking in the roadway. They said they would have hit the victim had he been in their lane.
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. Zipp said the victim had a blood- alcohol level of .17 percent when he was hit.
–City News Service