Man Sentenced For Killing Cabbie In Hit-And-RunOctober 25, 2006 No Comments
Judge Sentences Former USD Football Player To More Than Nine Years
SAN DIEGO — A mortgage broker who was on probation for drunken driving when he drove through a stop sign in Pacific Beach after an evening of partying, killing a cabbie, was sentenced today to more than nine years in state prison.
Anthony Valanos, 26, pleaded guilty Aug. 30 to vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and admitted a hit-and-run allegation in the March 25 death of Zeki Mohammed Tovi. Valanos, who was immediately taken into custody, could have gotten up to 11 years in state prison.
Valanos pleaded guilty to non-alcohol-related vehicular manslaughter and a hit-and-run allegation that he personally inflicted great bodily injury on the victim. Charges of second-degree murder, driving under the influence and filing a false police report were dismissed under the plea deal.
Defense attorney Myles Berman said alcohol played no role in the fatal accident. But the judge, who sentenced Valanos to the middle term of four years on the manslaughter charge and added five years for fleeing the scene, disagreed. “There is no question that alcohol was involved in this,” Wellington said. The judge said Valanos was for the most part a responsible young man with a potentially bright future, but who has a “significant problem with alcohol.” The defendant’s domestic life centered around “drinking and partying,” the judge said.
The victim was killed when Valanos, a former University of San Diego football player, ran through a stop sign at Thomas Avenue and Haines Street in his BMW sport utility vehicle about 12:45 a.m. Adam Combs testified at an earlier hearing that he, Valanos and other friends had about seven to eight drinks at a bar, including whiskey, beer and shots of liqueur, before leaving sometime after 12:30 a.m. Combs, the front seat passenger, testified that he told Valanos to slow down after the defendant accelerated out of a parking lot across from the bar. The witness said Valanos ran the stop sign at Thomas and Haines at about 50 mph. Combs testified that he thought he and his friends should call the police after the crash, but they ended up walking away. The witness, along with Valanos and another friend, took a cab to his home in Point Loma, and Valanos stayed the night. The next day, Valanos told police his car was stolen from the bar and he and his friends took a cab home, Combs testified. Combs said he later told police the truth about what happened.
Wellington said Valanos and his friends had expressed concern about drinking and driving before going to the bar, yet they still headed out in the defendant’s car. Wellington said he was not impressed by the defendant’s argument that the crash was not alcohol related and was caused by excessive speed. If the crash was caused by speeding, Valanos exhibited a “sobering disregard for human life” by leaving the victim in the street to die, the judge said. “(Valanos) was enjoying himself behind the wheel at a high speed,” Wellington told the packed courtroom.
Deputy District Attorney Sophia Roach, who unsuccessfully argued for the maximum prison term, said the victim — a father of four boys ages 4 through 17 — was particularly vulnerable. “He was blindsided, broadsided and killed,” the prosecutor told the judge. Roach argued the defendant had a lengthy history of traffic violations, and said Valanos ran at least two stop signs before crashing into Tovi’s cab. “His driving was so out of control,” the prosecutor said. Roach criticized Valanos for telling a probation officer that the crash was “just a mistake.” She said Tovi, who fled Iraq in 1988 and came to the United States in 1993, had been a cab driver for six years and before that, worked as a driving instructor.
Valanos didn’t have the “humanity” to stop and try to save the victim, the prosecutor said.
Kevin Hooker, who lives in the area, said the crash sounded “like two trains colliding.” “What I saw will be etched in my mind forever,” Hooker said. “The thought that has haunted me is … how could someone just leave?”
Mehdi Tovi, the victim’s oldest son, said Valanos should get the maximum prison term for what he did. “There are no words to describe how it feels to bury a father,” the 17-year-old said. “Mr. Valanos has scarred us for life. My family has to pay for what he’s done. So should he.”
Michael Valanos, the defendant’s father, said his son is a “good, forthright man,” who put himself through school and was driven to succeed. Valanos’ mother, Cindi Rhorer, said her son was devoted to his family, and the events surrounding the fatal crash were out of character for him Rhorer said she could only imagine the panic and confusion her son must have felt as he walked away from the scene. “I know that Anthony will be tormented by the fact that a man died,” his mother said.
The defendant apologized to the victim’s family and read a short statement, expressing his remorse. Valanos said the night of the crash was the “worst day of my life” and was an unplanned event that “I would not wish on anyone.” The only true justice would be if he could trade places with the victim, Valanos said.
Berman said Valanos found himself in a surreal environment after the collision and panic and disorientation led him to walk away from the crash scene. The defense attorney unsuccessfully argued for the low term of seven years in prison.
“Seven years is deterrent. Seven years is punishment. Seven years will send a message,” Berman told the judge.Assault, Drunk Drivers