Girl Begins Sentence for Deaths of Three Friends

TIMES STAFF WRITER

An 18-year-old Laguna Beach motorist who killed three of her passengers when she ran into a big-rig truck reported to Juvenile Hall this week to start serving a 180-day sentence for vehicular manslaughter, authorities said Thursday.

The girl, who was a juvenile at the time of the May 23, 1996 accident, had pleaded no contest Dec. 11 to one count of vehicular manslaughter for the deaths of Stephen Lord, 20, of Irvine, Cody Thorne, 18, of Laguna Beach, and Leon Green, a 20-year-old freshman basketball player at Irvine Valley College who lived in Long Beach.

According to attorneys, the judge will review the girl's sentence after 45 days to determine whether she should serve the remainder of her time behind bars or be transferred to an alcohol-treatment center and serve 200 hours of community service.

Sources close to the case said the girl had been drinking before the accident, but had a blood-alcohol level below 0.05--the point at which drivers under age 21 are considered legally drunk.

The defendant pleaded no contest to vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence and three additional enhancements, one for each person killed. Had she been an adult when tried, she could have faced a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.

Some relatives of the victims said they felt the girl should have received a harsher sentence.

"We were not pleased," said Betty Hopkins, the mother of Lord. "This says the wrong things to all her peers. And, what adds to our grief, with juveniles, your records are sealed and you can still drive a car after a crash like this. I think that's just the wrong message."

Deputy Dist. Atty. Mark Geller said that because of confidentiality laws protecting juveniles, he was restricted to what he could say publicly about the case.

Vickie Hix, supervising deputy district attorney for juvenile court and Geller's boss, only said, "it was a difficult case."

Attorney Allan Stokke, who represented the driver, said his client was very remorseful over the incident. "They were all friends," he said.

Stokke said he believes justice was served, but added that he understands the displeasure of victims' relatives.

"They are bound to feel that it's never going to be enough time, no matter what the sentence was," Stokke said.

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