Man pleads guilty to vehicular homicide in death of five-year-old
An Asian man, who was driving the vehicle that ran over a five-year-old, who later died, was sentenced to three years in jail and fined $2,500 as part of his five years probation. Chung Se Lee was charged with vehicular homicide, and he pled guilty to the charge. Vehicular homicide is punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $5,000 and includes traffic citations of careless driving and speeding.
During sentencing last week, Lee apologized for his actions in his native language, Korean, and there was an interpreter present at the sentencing.
The defendant apologized before the court noting this has been very difficult to bear given that he too has an 18-month-old baby and he knows what it’s like to have a parent’s unconditional love.
He told the court that, to date, he’s still trying to come to terms with what happened and it was something he did not intend to do. The defendant informed the court he came to American Samoa in 2003 for a better future for his family and he started working as a fisherman making his way up to become a carpenter. Defense counsel, Matalupeivao Leupolu noted to the court the incident was “unintentional”.
However, Chief Justice Michael Kruse pointed out that while the defense counsel stated “this is an unintentional incident… what was not unintentional was taking a little more care when going into the parking lot looking for parking space.”
Kruse noted the court has taken into account the defendant’s early admission of guilt, and the court will hand down sentencing, with parity to similar cases. He then sentenced the defendant to three years in jail, however the Chief Justice suspended the execution of sentence for a period of five years, under certain conditions.
Lee was ordered to serve 12 months without any release from jail and upon serving six months, he’s entitled to work release provided he is gainfully employed. Lee was ordered to pay a fine of $2,500 and his driver’s license was suspended for 24 months. Kruse ordered the defendant must undergo a driver’s education course prior to obtaining his driver’s license again.
According to the government’s case, the incident occurred last year on Nov. 1, 2013, when police were informed that a child who had been transported to the hospital had been struck by a vehicle in front of the F&Y Fast Food store, across from Forsgren’s at the Laufou Shopping Center. The child later died from injuries from the incident.
Upon arriving at the scene, the owner of the restaurant pointed out to police the driver of the vehicle, Lee of Amaluia — who was sitting on a chair outside the restaurant.
Court filings say Lee told police he was dropping off fish for his friend who owns the restaurant and when he passed F7Y Fast Food, he made a quick wide right turn from the Laufou parking area to the cemented driveway/sidewalk immediately in front of the store entrance. Lee stated he did not see anything and then he heard a banging sound…”
It’s alleged people ran towards the vehicle and told Lee to back up and he backed up the vehicle. “The impact pushed the baby underneath the vehicle and trapped him between the vehicle's front right tire and the concrete driveway/sidewalk,” the court affidavit states.
According to the government’s case, Lee did not have any tint on the windows to obstruct or interfere with his view from inside the vehicle.
Also, police noted Lee was issued a traffic citation for speeding earlier that same day, just an hour before the incident.