Sentencing: Leone man to serve 20 months for vehicular homicide
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A man who was convicted of homicide by vehicle has been sentenced to 20 months detention at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF), as a condition of his 5-year probation term.
Folasa Galea’i, who has been out on a $2,000 surety bond, appeared in High Court yesterday morning for sentencing. He was represented by Assistant Public Defender Rob McNeill, while prosecuting was Assistant Attorney General Doug Lowe.
Galea’i, 26, was convicted by a jury earlier this year in March. He was the driver of a truck that struck and killed a man in Fagaalu two years ago.
Before Galea’i addressed the court, two witnesses were called to testify on his behalf: Fofo Rep. Andra Samoa, and an official of the American Samoa Power Authority (ASPA), where Galea’i is currently employed.
Rep. Samoa explained that Galea’i is her nephew, and she’s known him since birth.
According to her, Galea’i was 15 years old when his father passed away and since then, he’s had to step up to help his mother raise his younger siblings.
Rep. Samoa recalled a conversation she and Galea’i had one day, where he told her that he feels for the family who lost a father and a husband because of his actions.
Samoa asked the court to give Galea’i a second chance to redeem himself. “This is a really tough time for Galea’i… knowing that a family lost their loved one because of his actions,” she said.
Sisifo Lauvao Jr, supervisor for the ASPA Generator Division, described Galea’i as a person with good character.
He told the court that out of 30 new employees hired and trained by ASPA last year on how to operate the new model generators, Galea’i is one of the top three, he has a lot of potential and skills.
Lauvao said Galea’i is a hard working young man who shows his leadership skills every time he performs his duties. According to the witness, Galea’i is honest and faithful, and he can see him becoming a leader for the division in the future.
Before Galea’i addressed the court, he turned and apologized to the spouse of the deceased, who was inside the courtroom, which was packed with Galea’i’s friends and family members.
“I’m deeply sorry for what happened on the afternoon of June 9, 2017 when I struck your husband and killed him,” Galea’i said to the victim’s widow. “I had no intention of taking away your loved one. I apologize and ask you to please forgive me,” Galea’i said.
He then apologized to the court and asked for leniency.
Defense attorney McNeill asked for a light sentence and said if the court imposes jail time, he asks that Galea’i be granted work release so he can support his family.
McNeill said that in his 30 years as a public defender, he has never seen so many people come to court in show of support. He acknowledged that a traditional “ifoga” was carried out by his client’s family to the victim’s family, and a monetary gift was presented to the deceased’ family during his funeral.
He asked the court to consider those things during their deliberation for a sentence.
Prosecutor Lowe told the court that the case against Galea’i has to do with a lack of judgement. He said despite the defendant’s claim that what he did was not intentional, it is clear from the facts that a family has lost a loved one because of his actions.
Lowe said despite the presence of many family members who showed up in support of Galea’i, the court has to know that the government is there to represent the victim’s family.
Based on what she told Probation, Lowe said the victim’s wife believes that an appropriate sentence must be handed down for the defendant.
According to the victim’s wife, the tragedy affects her and her family forever, because they lost the one person they depended on for everything. Lowe said the victim’s wife and children have not been the same since the tragedy.
Chief Justice Kruse, in his remarks, recapped the events of that horrific day.
He said Galea’i’s vehicle was traveling at a high rate of speed when he struck the victim, who was standing in front of his truck on the other side of the road in Fagaalu, with his wife and young children witnessing the entire thing.
According to the victim’s wife when she took the stand during trial, while she was hugging her two young children inside their truck, she saw the defendant’s car ‘flying towards them’ and by the grace of God, she and her children were spared.
Based on the evidence, the defendant’s vehicle continued on after he struck the victim, hitting a rock wall until it finally came to a full stop.
And the damage to the defendant’s vehicle proves that he was speeding.
Kruse recalled the defendant’s testimony, that he was “tired, but not sleeping” behind the wheel. The defendant in his testimony during trial said, “the last thing I remember was passing the hospital intersection in Fagaalu.”
According to the court, they are confused as to why the defendant cannot recall the time he struck the victim, but can remember the time his vehicle hit the rock wall.
The CJ then sentenced Galea’i to 5 years imprisonment and a fine of $5,000. Execution of sentence is suspended and he is placed on probation for 5 years, subject to several conditions.
He is to serve 20 months at the TCF without any release; however, he may be released for work — upon approval of the Warden — from 6a.m. to 6p.m., Mondays to Fridays while serving detention.