UC Santa Cruz student to serve four years for cyclist's death
JOHN CANNON and JENNIFER SQUIRES - Sentinel Staff Writers
Article Launched: 04/05/2008 01:31:59 AM PDT
SANTA CRUZ -- A UC Santa Cruz student who pleaded guilty to killing a cyclist in a drunken-driving collision last spring will serve prison time, a Superior Court judge ruled Friday.
Judge Jeff Almquist sentenced Suleiman Hodali to four years in prison beginning Sept. 1. Almquist rejected the punishment suggested by Hodali's parole officer that included extensive community service and a year in County Jail, but said if Hodali completes the 12-step treatment program he is involved in, his prison term will be reduced to three years.
The 20-year-old Porter College student was less than three blocks from his Thurber Lane home in the early morning of May 18 when he allowed his Toyota Tacoma to drift toward the side of the road and strike Benjamin Mora, 29, according to the California Highway Patrol.
Mora was riding his 21-speed mountain bike to his house when he was hit, the CHP reported. He died at the scene.
Hodali, who is originally from the Los Angeles area, had a blood-alcohol level nearly twice the legal limit after the crash, according to the CHP. He was not injured.
Hodali was arrested on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence, booked into County Jail and later released on $100,000 bail.
At the hearing Friday, prosecutor Dave Genochio told the court that Hodali was seen "barrelling through an intersection" just before the collision and that he crossed the white line into Mora's bicycle lane. Those circumstances led to charges of "vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence."
"These are the most difficult court cases in my mind," Genochio said. "The court is balancing an otherwise-upstanding citizen with what he did."
Hodali's supporters packed the gallery behind him, and several of his friends and family members urged Almquist to consider Hodali's "deep remorse," his lack of a previous criminal record and his involvement in the alcohol-treatment program. In high school, he had maintained a 3.96 grade-point average, the defense said, and he has done well at UC Santa Cruz.
"He's been a good boy," said Nina Hodali, the student's mother, after a tearful apology to Mora's family. "This is something you don't ever expect your kid to have to go through."
Hodali also took the opportunity to speak to the victim's family.
"All I can really say is I'm sorry," he said, facing Mora's family and friends. "If I could change places with Benjamin, I would."
But nothing can bring him back, said several of Mora's relatives through an interpreter, especially to his wife and three children living in Mexico.
"The death of our brother still hurts," said Norma Mora, the victim's sister, as she implored the judge for justice. "I believe [Hodali] should pay for what he did."
Mora's family was pleased with the terms of Hodali's punishment after the hearing.
"They hope that this sentence and that this case serves to deter others from drinking and driving," said Jose Martinez, the family's interpreter and spokesman.
Almquist said a prison sentence would best send "that message to the community." But, acknowledging Hodali's sincere regret coupled with the fact that he had no prior run-ins with the law, Almquist ordered four years of prison time, though that number could have been as high as 10 years.
Contact John Cannon at 706-3264 or email@example.com
the drunk driver.
I think he should have gotten at least 5 or 6 years, but thats just me.