A drunken driver sentenced to more than five decades in prison this week following a fiery crash that a judge described as a “tragedy of epic proportions” is now begging the families of the three teen victims for forgiveness.
Bani Duarte reportedly had at least nine drinks in her system and a blood-alcohol level of .28 around the time her car rear-ended a vehicle occupied by 18-year-old Dylan Mack and 17-year-olds Brooke Hawley and Albert Rossi Jr. in Huntington Beach, Calif., in March 2018.
She was traveling nearly 80mph and the ensuing collision pushed the Las Vegas teens’ car through an intersection and into a pole, where it then caught fire, the Review-Journal newspaper reports.
“I understand you hate me, wish I was dead,” Duarte said to their families Thursday during her sentencing hearing, where she was given a term of 51 years to life after being found guilty of three counts of second-degree murder and one count of driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury.
“You want me to suffer. I just want to say that I’m truly sorry and maybe one day you will forgive me,” she added. “What I’m saying is coming from my heart.”
But Aaron Hawley, Brooke’s father, told the courtroom that the trial “was not about the defendant.”
“It’s about three young adults doing nothing wrong and paid the ultimate price because one irresponsible person decided they were more important than anybody else on the face of the Earth,” he said, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
The newspaper, citing police data, reported the 29-year-old mother of four from San Clemente never braked before the collision. Only one teen in the vehicle that was struck managed to survive – 17-year-old Alexis Vargas, who suffered burns and a concussion.
“To sum this up in one line, this is a tragedy of epic proportions,” Orange County Superior Court Judge Gary Paer said during Duarte’s sentencing Thursday. “The victims’ families are suffering. The defendant’s family is suffering. There are no words to adequately summarize this horrific event.”
Albert Rossi Sr. said his son’s death was worse than the horrors of war.
“I am a Marine Vietnam combat veteran who fought for this country,” he told the judge Thursday, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “Vietnam was a living hell, but compared to this, it was a walk in the park.”