A teen who was driving a car that crashed in Rancho Santa Fe, killing a classmate, pleaded guilty in connection with the case on Tuesday.
Alex Capozza, 17, was killed in the crash early on a Sunday morning in October when the Mazda he was riding in rolled over several times.
In October, prosecutors decided to charge the driver, who is also 17, as a juvenile, and as such, he has not been identified. In juvenile court on Tuesday, the Torrey Pines High School student pleaded guilty to one count of felony gross vehicular manslaughter with two special allegations of great bodily injury. In return for the teen's plea, the prosecution dropped other charges, including felony DUI.
The first thing the defense attorney did on Tuesday was withdraw the defense request for a deferred judgment. If the judge had ruled in the teen driver's favor, a deferred judgment would have allowed him to serve his punishment and then have the crime removed from his record. It appears, however, that the probation department and prosecutor opposed the request, so the defense dropped it prior to any ruling.
The driver faces 13 years in custody, according to Judge George Clark, but the boy's defense attorney explained that that is the adult sentence maximum, not the juvenile crime sentence, which the teen faces. When he is sentenced on Dec. 9, he will most likely get something within a very wide range of punishment, ranging from home detention to a year or more at the state youth authority, according to the teen's attorney.
New information about the incident was revealed in court on Tuesday, including the fact that investigators believe the car was going about 79 mph when it crashed in a 45 mph zone. The toxicology report showed that the teen driver had a .11 BAC, not a .10, as previously reported. The prosecutor also said the driver most likely had a BAC of .14 or .15 at the time of the crash. In addition, the report showed the teen had morphine in his system at the time of the crash. The defense attorney said the teen denies taking any drugs that night. There is apparently some question about the accuracy of the blood test, so the judge ordered a retest to be done before sentencing.
The defense again asked the judge to let the teen go home with his parents while awaiting sentencing. The attorney said the boy has no prior arrests or traffic tickets -- not even an unexplained tardy from school. He said the family would agree to any conditions to get their son back home, including routine drug testing and probation department supervision. The lawyer said the teen could be home-schooled or return to classes at Torrey Pines high, and promised the teen would comply with all requirements of release from juvenile hall.
The prosecutor strongly opposed that request, however, pointing out that the probation department said that the teen should remain in custody and that he needs drug and alcohol treatment. The prosecutor noted that the boy was under his parent's supervision the night of the accident, which shows that parent supervision in this case is not adequate. She also told the court that the boy should remain in custody at Juvenile Hall for his own safety and the safety of others.
In the end, the judge denied the request for release.
Another teen, Jaime Arnold, also 17, was badly injured in the crash.
Laure Capozza, Alex's aunt, said after the crash that his parents were devastated by the death of their son.
"There's a lot of family that's pulled together right now, they're being as supportive as possible to Alex's parents who are going through the worst thing anybody could ever go through," Laure Capozza said.
She's hoping the crash will help teens understand why no one should ever drink and drive, and why everyone should always wear seat belts. Investigators said Alex was not wearing a seat belt.