A California mother of four broke down in tears and begged for forgiveness after she was sentenced to serve more than half a century in prison for causing a crash that killed three teenagers and was described as "a tragedy of epic proportions.”
Bani Duarte, 29, was sentenced Thursday in an Orange County courtroom to at least 51 years in prison for causing a fiery crash in 2018 that killed three teens and severely injured a fourth.
“To sum this up in one line, this is a tragedy of epic proportions,” Superior Court Judge Gary Paer said, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “The victims’ families are suffering. The defendant’s family is suffering. There are no words to adequately summarize this horrific event.”
Paer imposed the sentence following Duarte's conviction on three counts of second-degree murder and a count of DUI in October 2018.
At around 1:00 a.m. on March 29, 2018, and after a night of drinking, Duarte was speeding down a California highway at approximately 80 mph before she slammed into the back of the teenagers' vehicle at an intersection, the Review-Journal reported. The force of the impact slammed the car forward and sent it crashing into a pole, where it then burst into flames.
Brooke Hawley, Albert “AJ” Rossi Jr., both 17, and Dylan Mack, 18, were all killed. Alexis Vargas, now 18, was hospitalized with burns and a concussion but survived the crash. Duarte had at least nine drinks in her system and a blood alcohol content nearly three times the legal limit at the time, authorities said. The bodies of the victims had to be identified through dental records, NBC Los Angeles reported.
“I understand you hate me, wish I was dead,” Duarte said Thursday to the victims' families. “You want me to suffer. I just want to say that I’m truly sorry and maybe one day you will forgive me. What I’m saying is coming from my heart.”
Photos taken by the Review-Journal show Duarte was sobbing while she delivered the statement.
“I’m ashamed, remorseful, regretful for the actions I made on March 29, 2018,” she said. “This tragedy not only affected your family, but also mine, and it’s something I have to live with for the rest of my life.”
The families of the victims of the crash were unmoved by Duarte's plea for mercy.
“Brooke has been dead for 700 days today. I’ve missed my daughter 700 days,” Brooke's father Aaron Hawley said, according to the Review-Journal. “I hate you so much for what you did to my children, to my family.”
“I am a Marine Vietnam combat veteran who fought for this country,” Albert Rossi Sr. told the courtroom. “Vietnam was a living hell, but compared to this, it was a walk in the park.”
“You will be able to see your children in jail, you will be able to touch them. When I want to see my son I have to go to a cemetery thanks to you," he continued, according to the Orange County Register.
"Everybody talks about wanting to do the right thing. You teach your kids to do the right thing. They do the right thing and they’re dead," Brooke's mother Rhonda Hawley said in court.
Vargas did not attend the sentencing hearing, according to the Review-Journal.
“I hope that your children find healing as they come to terms with the fact that their mother valued alcohol more than their lives on that night, too,” Vargas' mother Kitzia Andrade told Duarte.
“You don’t have to give her forgiveness, just know that she knows what she did and is ready to be sentenced to life in prison,” Duarte's attorney Justin Glenn said, according to the OC Register.
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