Couple is sentenced in fatal Pacific Palisades hit-and-run

Couple is sentenced in fatal Pacific Palisades hit-and-run
Marguerite Vuong, who pleaded no contest to leaving the scene of an accident that killed a federal judge's son in Pacific Palisades, sits in court before her sentencing Friday. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

For years, Dean Pregerson has looked down from his federal court bench pronouncing judgment on the convicted.

On Friday, the tall jurist with dark, thick eyebrows found himself at a sentencing hearing in the painful position of being on the other side of the bench, telling another judge about the death of his 23-year-old son in a hit-and-run.


Pregerson, who has spoken little in public about the killing, took a deep breath and spoke slowly about the day his son was found bloody in a dark street and about how nearly everything reminds him of that early morning in December 2013.

Even the 405 Freeway, which he had taken to get to court on Friday, brings him past Hillside Memorial Park, where his son, David, is buried.

"You never get over the loss of a child," he said. "Every day is just pain management."

A few minutes later, Pregerson, a judge in the U.S. Central District, glanced at the couple sitting to his left — whom he'd later call "monsters."

"How can someone leave a mortally wounded child on a dark road in the middle of the night?" he asked. "What level of depravity is there?"

His comments came during an emotional hearing Friday, where a judge sentenced Marguerite Vuong to three years in prison and her husband, Michael, to a year in jail and probation, in connection with the death of Pregerson's son.

Marguerite, who had been driving to work when the incident occurred, previously pleaded no contest to hit-and-run. Her husband pleaded no contest to being an accessory after the fact for pretending to police that he was the driver.

Marguerite, a postal employee who was driving to her early morning shift as a mail sorter when the collision occurred on Dec. 27, 2013, stared ahead as Pregerson spoke.

She blinked rapidly. Her husband stared down.

When Pregerson's wife, Sharon, spoke about her son's compassion, she fidgeted with her necklace. She spoke about the image of her son's body, sprawled out and alone in the dark street.

"He didn't like the dark," she said.

Sniffles from other family members in the audience turned to sobs. The victim's grandfather, Harry, a judge in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, listened with his eyes closed.

The victim, drunk after a party, was struck as he was walking home about 3 a.m. For months, the case went unsolved, but surveillance videos from homeowners in the residential area of Pacific Palisades where the collision took place helped lead police to identify Marguerite as the driver. In a secret recording made at the police station, Marguerite told her husband to "lie about everything."

The couple's daughter spoke during the hearing, describing her parents as compassionate and saying they had built a new life for themselves after fleeing from Vietnam after the fall of Saigon.


When the couple's oldest son, Andrew, spoke, he choked up. David Pregerson's death has deeply affected him, he said, before turning to look at the Pregerson family.

"I would ask them for their forgiveness," he said.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Marna Miller said that every day on the way to work, Marguerite drove by the scene of the incident, where a memorial for David had been set up — a reminder, the prosecutor said, that she should come forward.

"The crime of hit and run: It's not the hitting that's the crime, it's the running that's the crime," she said. "The mistake keeps getting compounded and compounded and compounded."

The Vuongs' lawyers portrayed their clients in court records as a law-abiding couple who made one mistake when confronted with the most serious of moral conundrums.

"She has remorse," Marguerite's lawyer, David M. Murphy, told the judge.

But Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Kathryn Solórzano said Marguerite had a chance to tell the truth after detectives confronted her, but "chose not to."

A few moments later, a bailiff motioned for Marguerite to stand up. She put her hands behind her back and walked out of the courtroom in handcuffs. Her husband soon followed.

Twitter: @marisagerber