The man accused of felony hit-and-run driving in an freeway collision that killed former Santa Barbara High School baseball coach Simon Chavez has changed his plea to guilty, and will serve one year in Santa Barbara County Jail, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
Lau Van Huynh, 78, of Murrieta, changed his plea Thursday and will be sentenced April 4.
In addition to jail time, he will be on felony probation for three years. If he violates that probation, he faces four years in prison.
“Mr. Chavez’s family, friends and community are devastated by this tragedy, as they all deeply miss their gifted young victim,” District Attorney Joyce Dudley said.
On Jan. 15, Huynh was driving southbound on Highway 101 and hit Chavez, “who was stumbling and staggering in the (righthand) lane of the US-101 southbound,” Dudley said in a statement Friday.
Huynh did not stop to render aid or call 9-1-1 and kept driving. Chavez was pronounced dead at the scene a few minutes after authorities arrived.
The case was being prosecuted by Deputy District Attorney Sanford Horowitz, and Huynh is represented by attorney Peter Chang. Huynh listened to the proceedings through a Vietnamese translator.
California Highway Patrol officers testified that Chavez’s body was found just after 1 a.m. Jan. 15 on the freeway near the Ortega Street footbridge. CHP found pieces of a white 2011 Hyundai Tucson, including the driver-side mirror, at the gruesome scene and police arrested Huynh 11 days later.
Investigators found a vehicle matching the description in Huynh’s garage that had blood and hair fragments on the mirror and what appeared to be a “blue streak” on the driver’s side, which officers testified could be from the denim jeans Chavez was wearing.
In a statement Friday, Dudley commended the CHP and the Chumash Casino Resort for the investigation, which revealed that a white Hyundai with Huynh driving left the casino in Santa Ynez at 12:33 a.m. Jan. 15. That information helped officials identify and locate the vehicle.
“Hit and runs causing injury or death are on the rise,” Dudley said. “We all must be vigilant and make sure all drivers can, and do, remain focused on driving, because as we have seen too many times, cars can become deadly weapons. Further, every driver has the obligation to call 9-1-1 if they believe they have hit anyone or damaged any property.”