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Judge's son killed in hit-and-run; couple pleads no contest

Couple enters plea in the Christmastime hit-and-run that killed a prominent judge's son

A motorist charged with fleeing after she fatally struck the son of a federal judge as he walked home from a Christmas party pleaded no contest Friday to felony hit-and-run.

Marguerite Vuong, a 28-year postal employee, was driving to her 3 a.m. shift as a sorter when she struck 23-year-old David Pregerson, police said.

Pregerson, a budding film director, was the son of Dean D. Pregerson, a judge in the U.S. Central District and grandson of Harry Pregerson, who sits on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Vuong's husband, who allegedly tried to take the blame when police tracked the car to the couple’s Mar Vista home, pleaded no contest to being an accessory.

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FOR THE RECORD

Hit-run plea: An article in the Feb. 7 California section about a motorist pleading no contest in the hit-and-run death of the son of a federal judge misspelled the name of Superior Court Judge Kathryn Solorzano as Solarzano.

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Marguerite and Michael Vuong, both 67, entered the pleas with no agreed sentence, said Anthony Salerno, Michael Vuong’s attorney. They are scheduled to be sentenced March 6.

During a three-month investigation leading to their 2013 arrest, the Vuongs failed to respond to an impassioned promise of compassion from the victim’s prominent family.

"We are prepared to be compassionate," Dean Pregerson said in a news conference with investigators. "We are prepared to urge understanding."

But he added it would be different if the driver failed to come forward.

If "you have turned down the opportunity to do the right thing, then I will feel just the opposite," he said.

The Vuongs did not come forward during a three-month investigation.

In the absence of a deal, Superior Court Judge Kathyrn Solarzano will decide the sentence at a future hearing. Marguerite Vuong faces a maximum of four years in prison and her husband three.

Salerno said the district attorney’s office rejected a proposed deal of a year in jail and probation for Marguerite Vuong and probation with no jail time for her husband.

In an email to the Los Angeles Times before the hearing, Salerno said a representative of the district attorney’s office told him and Marguerite Vuong’s attorney, David Murphy, that "any offer would have to be approved at the highest levels in their office."

After the meeting, Salerno said, they were told that a plea deal would have to include prison time.

Through an aide in his courtroom, Pregerson declined to comment further until the case was decided.

A district attorney's office spokeswoman declined comment.

David Pregerson was struck on Chautauqua Boulevard about 3 a.m. on Dec. 27, 2013. He was found seriously injured by a private security officer. He died four days later.

Los Angeles Police Det. John Skaggs said the investigation was aided by surveillance videos obtained from homeowners in the residential neighborhood and aggressive coverage in the Palisadian-Post newspaper.

The videos established that the vehicle suspected of hitting Pregerson was a 1990s Volvo station wagon.

The newspaper published a generic photo of a similar model, prompting a tip from a co-worker of Vuong’s at the U.S. Postal Service annex in Pacific Palisades.

Vuong, a 28-year postal employee, was driving to her 3 a.m. shift as a sorter when she struck Pregerson, Skaggs said.

Vuong reported to work late that morning and continued showing up for work, but stopped driving the Volvo after the photo appeared on the front page of the newspaper, copies of which routinely were sorted at the annex, the tipster said.

Skaggs said he was questioning Marguerite Vuong when Michael Vuong arrived and claimed to have been driving the car.

He was initially charged with vehicular manslaughter. But as evidence developed that Marguerite Vuong was the driver, the charge was reduced to accessory.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

1:06 p.m.: This article was updated to add information about Marguerite and Michael Vuong entering their pleas.

The first version of this article was published at 8:04 a.m.

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