Bus driver sentenced in vehicular death of Tufue Malele Forsythe
“We accept that the accident was not intentional, but we will not accept or minimize the act of causing homicide the Chief Justice Michael Kruse said when handing down sentencing for Reino Esera, the bus driver who operated an aiga bus that struck Tufue Malele Forsythe, which led to his death back in August 2012.
Esera, who remains in police custody was initially charged with homicide by vehicle, careless driving, general duty of drivers and failure to yield right of way for pedestrians.
However in a plea agreement with the government, the defendant pled guilty to the homicide count while the government moved to dismiss the remaining charges.
Homicide by vehicle is a class D felony which is punishable by up to five years in jail, a fine of $5,000 or both jail time and fine.
During the sentencing hearing, Reino took the stand and apologized for his actions, noting the God has seen his crime and he’s remorseful for his actions. He apologized to the court, the government, his family and to the Forsythe family for what happened.
“I have prayed and fasted to the Lord to forgive me, the sinful person” said Reino. The defendant in tears, pleaded with the court to allow him a second chance to return home to care for his parents given that he was the sole provider for his family.
Assistant Public Defender Mike White asked the court to fashion a sentence in this case while considering that the incident wasn’t intentional. White said one of the most challenging things for anyone to be doing on a daily basis is driving. He noted that the defendant did not get enough sleep the night before.
“I understand that if you did not get enough sleep, you’re an impaired driver, just like driving under the influence of alcohol.”
Assistant Attorney General Kimberly Hyde told the court that she does not object to fashioning the sentencing, however asked the court to take into consideration the pain the family suffered due to the life that was taken from them.
The Chief Justice noted that the defendant was watching rugby the night before the incident. “We accept that the accident was not intentional, but we will not accept or minimize the act of causing vehicle by homicide.
“What was intentional was staying awake the night before, what was intentional was driving the vehicle without sleeping,” the Chief Justice noted.
Kruse added that the defendant has a record of traffic citations in the District Court, while operating buses for over ten years. He also reminded the defendant that he has outstanding fines to be addressed.
The defendant was sentenced to five years in jail, however execution of sentence was suspended and the defendant placed on probation for five years, under certain conditions. The defendant was ordered to serve 20 months in jail without any release unless ordered from the court or for a genuine medical release.
Kruse said that upon serving six months in jail, the court could entertain a motion for work release for the defendant, provided that he’s gainfully employed, however it must be a job that does not require driving.
The Chief Justice also revoked the defendant’s driver license — for life — and he was ordered not to operate a vehicle in American Samoa. He was also ordered to pay restitution to the family in the amount of $4,250 for medical expenses.
Kruse noted this has no affiliation if the Forsythe family moves to file a civil claim against the defendant and, or his employers. Reino is to visit the probation office regularly and remain a law abiding citizen.
According to the plea agreement that was read in open court, upon the defendant’s guilty plea he admits that on Aug. 25, 2012 he unintentionally caused the death of the victim, who was crossing the street in the crosswalk in front of CBT when he was struck by the bus, and the victim died from injuries he suffered as a result. The defendant said he fell asleep while driving and accidentally struck the victim.
Police attained written statements from three witnesses who saw the incident.
One witness, who was sitting in front of the CBT store said the victim had almost gotten to the other side of the crosswalk when the aiga bus, which was allegedly speeding, struck the victim with the bar handles attached to the bus.
The government claims 72-year old Tufue Malele Forsythe was pronounced dead at 6:30 a.m. at the LBJ hospital.