The family of Simon Chavez spoke passionately to the man convicted of hitting and killing him on the freeway.
The families of Chavez and Lau Van Huynh filled the courtroom on Thursday afternoon and both were in tears when the judge let 78-year-old Huynh know how long he would stay in jail.
“Why? Why our Simon?” said Maricella Martinez, a cousin of Chavez.
Family member after family member got up and addressed Judge Jean Dandona and Huynh.
“Simon had the biggest heart,” said cousin Ashton Falchi as she held back tears.
Huynh pleaded no contest to hitting and killing 22-year-old Chavez in the early morning hours of January 15 as he crossed the freeway near the Castillo Street off-ramp.
“Walking on the freeway does not define the life of my son, your honor. How beautiful a smile,” said Luis Quintanar as he pointed to a picture of Chavez on the wall of the courtroom. “A kid with personality. A kid that loved life! Him walking on the freeway, it was a mistake.”
Quintanar, Chavez’ stepfather, told the court he forgives Huynh for killing his son, but that he will never forget.
“When I had to confront and tell my daughter, my 12-year-old daughter, Tatianna, ‘Your brother died.’ And you know what she said to me? ‘Did they take him to the hospital?’ I couldn’t describe Mr. Huynh that he took off and left! I couldn’t! I couldn’t tell her!” Quintanar yelled in court, pointing at Huynh.
“To the family and friends of Mr. Simon Chavez, we are truly sorry,” said Tony Lau, Huynh’s son-in-law.
There was a small group of people in court for the defendant that started crying when they heard the sentence.
“The defendant shall serve 356 days in the Santa Barbara County Jail,” said Judge Dandona.
Huynh has been in custody since his January 26 arrest and will get credit for time served.
He addressed the court and asked the judge when he could go home. Then, for the first time, he spoke to the family through an interpreter.
“Please forgive me and I would like to apologize to the family,” Huynh said.
Along with the jail time, he will be on probation for three years and have to pay the family nearly $20,000 in restitution.
It is still not known why Chavez was walking on the freeway.