A judge ordered the son of an L.A. millionaire to spend several months in a juvenile camp for slamming his father's Lamborghini into a woman's car earlier this year, causing a fatal wreck that sparked protests from the victim's family, who alleged the defendant was given soft treatment by authorities.
The driver — whose full name is being withheld because he was 17 at the time of the crash — was racing in the high-end car with his then-girlfriend at speeds of more than 100 mph when he collided with a vehicle driven by Monique Munoz, 32, near Olympic Boulevard and Overland Avenue on Feb. 17, prosecutors said. The force of the crash nearly split Munoz's car in half, and she died at the scene.
The driver pleaded guilty to one count of vehicular manslaughter in April, but his sentencing hearing still drew demonstrations outside the Inglewood Juvenile Court building from Munoz's friends and family. Munoz's loved ones said the teen should at least spend some time in a county juvenile camp and argued that his request for probation would be an injustice.
"House arrest in a mansion is not punishment," Cynthia Crespin, Munoz's cousin, said in court last week. "He took an innocent life in a careless and senseless way."
The driver's father is James Khuri, a multimillionaire who owns several real estate firms and an e-commerce business. The Times normally does not identify juveniles accused of crimes and has not published the teen’s name in this case, but Khuri spoke out publicly earlier this year, apologizing to the Munoz family in the face of protests and media scrutiny.
Although the driver has no criminal record, prosecutors had argued that he should spend time in a juvenile camp because the fatal crash was not the first time he'd driven recklessly. The teen had been cited twice for driving at excessive speeds in Beverly Hills, resulting in his driver's license being suspended, investigators said in court. Last week, Los Angeles police officials also testified that the teen had posted on social media about engaging in "drifting" and other street racing activity in the weeks before the wreck.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Sabina Helton invoked the driver's reckless history Thursday and said there had been a "consistent lack of accountability" in his life. Helton questioned whether his parents — who paid to have the Lamborghini taken out of impound in the weeks before the deadly crash — could provide the kind of oversight needed to correct his past behavior.
"[The driver] needs to be held accountable the same as any other kid who appears in this court," she said.
Before Helton delivered her ruling, several of Munoz's relatives spoke and footage of the crash was shown. In a tearful appeal, Munoz's mother, Carol Cardona, asked Helton to sentence the teen to the maximum penalty possible.
"I'm going to ask the court that we get justice for my daughter; she deserves that much," Cardona said. "My life is not the same, nor will it ever be."
If convicted of vehicular manslaughter as an adult, the driver could have faced a maximum of six years in state prison. Nine months is the longest he can be sentenced to stay in the county's camp system, though that tenure could be extended depending on his behavior in custody.
Sobbing nearly the entire time he spoke, the driver apologized to Munoz's family and said he had considered killing himself several times since the crash, sometimes wishing he had died instead of the victim. Although the driver appeared brash and condescending in social media posts and footage displayed throughout the days-long disposition hearing, the now 18-year-old was soft-spoken and quaking in court Thursday.
"I realize my suffering does not even come close to what you have gone through," he said to the Munoz family. "I was a spoiled, reckless 17-year-old who thought I was invincible."
Defense attorney Mark Werksman had asked Helton to sentence the driver to probation, noting that he was diagnosed with autism, depression and attention deficit disorder after the crash. Psychologist Karen Schiltz testified last week that the teen had probably had autism his entire life but was not properly diagnosed until this year.
Schiltz warned that the driver would probably be "victimized" if held in an L.A. County juvenile camp. Werksman said he was especially concerned about the harm that could befall the driver in a local juvenile facility after the California Board of State and Community Corrections ruled last month that the county's juvenile facilities were unsuitable to house youthful offenders.
As that panel's ruling applied only to the county's juvenile halls, not the camp facilities where the driver will now reside, Helton ultimately disregarded the argument at sentencing. Werksman and Khuri declined to comment after the hearing.
Despite the fact that the driver was sentenced to the highest penalty he could face in Juvenile Court, some of Munoz's relatives said they didn't think his apology was genuine and believed he should have been tried as an adult.
"I call it the lollipop sentence and going to Camp Snoopy," said Munoz's uncle, Richard Cartier.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.