Sunday, August 30 , 2015, 11:37 am | Fair 78.0º




Simon Chavez’s Family Tearfully Recalls Life Lost to Hit-and-Run Driver

Memory of former Santa Barbara High School coach is honored at a hearing for Lau Van Huynh, sentenced to a year in jail

Luis Quintanar speaks Thursday in Santa Barbara at the sentencing hearing for the man who admitted killing his stepson, Simon Chavez, whose photo is on the board in the background, in a hit-and-run accident in January. He told Lau Van Huynh, who was sentenced to a year in jail, “we can never forgive your selfish motives.”

Luis Quintanar speaks Thursday in Santa Barbara at the sentencing hearing for the man who admitted killing his stepson, Simon Chavez, whose photo is on the board in the background, in a hit-and-run accident in January. He told Lau Van Huynh, who was sentenced to a year in jail, “we can never forgive your selfish motives.”  (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

By Lara Cooper, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @laraanncooper |

Through a multitude of tears, Simon Chavez’s family honored his memory Thursday during an emotional sentencing hearing in Santa Barbara for the man who admitted killing him and then fleeing the scene.

Lau Van Huynh (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk file photo)
Lau Van Huynh (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk file photo)

The hearing provided a chance for those who loved Chavez, 22, to voice the loss they suffered in January, when Lau Van Huynh struck and killed him while he staggered on Highway 101 near the Ortega Street footbridge. After the collision, Huynh continued driving to his home in Riverside County.

Family and friends remembered Chavez as a lover of 1980s music and movies, a compassionate big brother and a die-hard Los Angeles Dodgers fan, a young man who lit up a room with his smile.

He was not, they said, merely someone described in the headlines as the victim of a violent incident.

“That is not the correct definition of my cousin,” said Ashton Falchi, speaking to the court through tears. “My Simon was something special. Simon had a life, a future, a family. ... Now all we have is a picture and a memory.”

Chavez, a former Santa Barbara High School baseball coach, was found just after 1 a.m. Jan. 15 on the southbound freeway lanes near the Ortega Street footbridge.

Several witnesses reported that Chavez had been staggering in traffic before he was struck, according to testimony last month in Santa Barbara County Superior Court.

He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Pieces of a white 2011 Hyundai Tucson, including the driver-side mirror, were found at the scene, but the driver had not stopped.

Eleven days later, police arrested Huynh, 78, of Murrieta, on charges of felony hit-and-run, and hit-and-run with fatal injuries.

Investigators had found a vehicle matching the description in Huynh’s garage, and had to obtain a search warrant to gain access to it after Huynh’s daughter told them they couldn’t search the vehicle and that she didn’t know anyone by her father’s name, according to court testimony.

Ashton Falchi cries Thursday during the sentencing hearing for the man who admitted striking and killing her cousin, Simon Chavez, on Highway 101 and fleeing the scene. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)
Ashton Falchi cries Thursday during the sentencing hearing for the man who admitted striking and killing her cousin, Simon Chavez, on Highway 101 in January and fleeing the scene. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

California Highway Patrol officers stated that the vehicle appeared as if it had been wiped down on the driver’s door panel and where there was collision damage.

Grief was evident among the numerous family members who spoke in court Thursday. One question that came up again and again was why Huynh would choose to keep driving after hitting Chavez.

“(Huynh) knew exactly what he hit,” said Chavez’s cousin, Myra Martinez.

The family was most disturbed that Huynh apparently had help cleaning Chavez’s blood off his vehicle “as if it was that of a deer that meant nothing to anybody,” Martinez said.

She said the family will never have complete closure because they still don’t know why Chavez was on the freeway.

Family members recalled that Chavez had volunteered with the Special Olympics because his younger brother, Christian, has autism.

At the time of his death, Chavez had been working as well as taking classes at Santa Barbara City College because he wanted to become a history teacher and continue coaching baseball.

A poster is filled with memories and love for Simon Chavez, 22, of Santa Barbara, who was killed by a hit-and-run-driver on Highway 101 in January. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)
A poster is filled with memories and love for Simon Chavez, 22, of Santa Barbara, who was killed by a hit-and-run-driver on Highway 101 in January. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

Several family members recounted the trauma of hearing the news for the first time, some from seeing the body covered by a sheet on television news only to find out later it was Chavez.

Thursday’s most emotional moments came when Chavez’s stepfather, Luis Quintanar, spoke.

“My family, my wife and kids forgive you for killing my son, but we can never forgive your selfish motives,” he told Huynh, adding that he had “no respect over a human being’s life.”

Chavez had made a mistake by walking on the freeway, said Quintanar, his voice shaking. It was a mistake that had cost him his life, he added.

Two people also spoke about Huynh’s character Thursday, including 15-year friend Richard Peña.

“He’s a good man,” he said of Huynh. “This is tragic for both families. There are no winners today, no matter what happens.”

Through a Vietnamese translator, Huynh quietly apologized to Chavez’s family before Judge Jean Dandona called an end to the hearing.

Huynh pleaded guilty last month, and Dandona sentenced him Thursday to three years of probation on the condition that he serve one year in the Santa Barbara County Jail.

Because of time served and work hours, Huynh already has completed 137 days of that time. He must also pay $19,715 in restitution to Chavez’s family, and $1,680 in other restitution and fines, Dandona said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.




comments powered by Disqus

» on 04.05.13 @ 09:30 AM

His own fault, no one else.

No one forced him to walk on 101.

Pedestrians are the master of their own fates with the choices that they make. They MUST take responsibility for their own safety.

» on 04.05.13 @ 11:16 AM

And we still don’t know why Chavez was “staggering” on Highway 101 in the middle of the night! Why?
Sounds like somebody is hiding something.
Please tell us the whole story!
HP

» on 04.05.13 @ 11:44 AM

This very much begs the question of why the deceased was on the freeway “staggering in lanes” in the first place.  The crime here was leaving the scene, not manslaughter.  Had he stopped, it appears that no crime would have occurred.  It appears that the family is transferring their grief and anger onto Huynh - which is understandable as far as it goes, but he’s not the one who was responsible for the victim staggering in lanes on the freeway.  The victim would still be deceased had Huynh stopped.  Why was the victim on the freeway in traffic lanes?  The full truth is not being presented.

» on 04.05.13 @ 02:25 PM

This man did not kill Chavez. Chavez killed himself by walking onto the freeway. Chavez’s family needs to deal with the fact that their “loved one” was reckless and could have killed someone (other than himself). I hope the family spends their $19,715 on a trip to Hawaii.

» on 04.05.13 @ 08:23 PM

12345, You said that “This man did not kill Chavez. Chavez killed himself by walking onto the freeway. Chavez’s family needs to deal with the fact that their “loved one” was reckless and could have killed someone (other than himself). I hope the family spends their $19,715 on a trip to Hawaii.”

if he didn’t kill Chavez, then why he was leaving the country?
Why his own daughter denied him, when the authorities when to his house and ask for him?
why ? just because he is an Old man? or you are a heartless man as this Assassin is ?

he Didn’t care about the pain that Chavez family have, and the only thing he ask at the court was “When can I go Home?” !!!

WTF IS WRONG WITH THIS HEARTLESS MAN ?????

the other thing is that he got 3 years of probation or 1 year and pay the family that amount, which No money will replace Chavez, The family is not going to hawaii like you said, the Family want justice and I hope they get it.

This Man who preferred to spend 12 hours in a Casino, instead of be a man who should stay at the scene and at least call the cops. and not Run like he did, maybe he was so High that instead of stay there at the scene, made the STUPID Decision of RUN, and clean the blood of Chavez at the next gas station.

Those kind of people don’t deserve the right to be in the streets.

» on 04.05.13 @ 09:46 PM

Chavez chose to step onto the freeway and into the path of a moving car. He committed suicide for all intents and purposes. Chavez also broke the law by walking on the freeway. He killed himself during the commission of a crime.

» on 04.06.13 @ 03:13 PM

I understand why Huynh was convicted for hit and run, but I don’t understand why the family is talking like it was his fault that he hit Chavez.  From the facts I have read, it seems to me like Huynh was the victim.  Am I missing something here?

» on 04.06.13 @ 07:52 PM

Tragic, when promising lives are snuffed out, or ruined, in one distracted moment.

A lively young man, bouncing along 101 toward home in the dark, because he was
too wrecked to legally drive.

A senior citizen, on his way to jail, his family’s reputation in tatters, because even
after surgery, and on “meds”, he was too addicted to gambling to be able to leave
the Casino early, or use a designated driver.

Bad luck? Fate? Very sad, either way.

» on 04.07.13 @ 02:22 PM

This is a sad tale of an idiot who lost his life because he was being an idiot…

Another idiot is being charged because he was an idiot and regardless of the fact that it wasn’t his fault, he left the scene… two idiots, one dead one. That is all…

» on 04.07.13 @ 11:27 PM

One glaring omission: what was the deceased’s Blood alcohol level? And any other drugs in his system?
It is bizarre that the family considers the man whose car struck their son a “killer”!  Really?!

» on 04.10.13 @ 07:03 PM

RE: SBLOGIC
The Family is not Calling Huynh a “KILLER”
“My family, my wife and kids forgive you for killing my son”
what is more painful for the Family of Chavez, is that this Guy didn’t stop to see if Chavez was OK, which at that moment he wasn’t ok due to the severe impact he received.
but C’mon guys, is common sense, if you hit something on the street that even rip the side mirror of your car on the 101 in Santa Barbara Area ... IS NOT A DEER !!! you need to stop. Nobody will accuse you for hitting a Guy in the freeway if you stop. all the comments are being in the nature of
-What was the alcohol level of chavez?
-was chavez intoxicated?
-what was chavez doing walking on the freeway?
why you guys ask those questions but for Huynh.
Was he on Drugs?
What was his alcohol level at the time of the accident?
Was he had something in the car that was going to cause a bigger problem?
why he was going out of the country after killing Chavez?
Why the Daughter denied him when the cops ask for Huynh at his own house?

Those are the questions that need to be answered, not the Chavez ones, we all know that Chavez made a HUGE mistake by walking on the freeway, regardless of the alcohol or any other substances that he could have on his system. He made a mistake that it was the last mistake of his life.

But Huynh ? what is his mistake? why, what, when and many other questions are unanswered by Huynh. He just Want to go Home. as he Said on the court “When Can I go home” ... He didn’t even Said SORRY to the family, all he cares is going home, probably due to an addiction? either alcohol, Drugs or Gambling ????

Many Questions, but no ANSWERS.

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