Thursday, April 26, 2001

Drunken driver
gets 1 year for
woman’s death

Francis Julian also gets
5 years probation for
the 1999 incident

By Debra Barayuga

Gregarious, caring, fun-loving, intelligent.

Twenty-four-year-old Melissa Ynfante was all that and much more to her family and those who knew her.

She was the highlight at family gatherings, a doting godmother to nephew Cody, her sister's best friend and a loving daughter.

"We lost about half our lives," said Jose Ynfante, on how the sudden death of the youngest of his three daughters by a drunken driver has affected his family.

It has been a year and a half since Francis Julian, now 25, drove his car while intoxicated and plowed into the back of the car Melissa Ynfante was riding in on Ala Moana. She died seven days later on Oct. 10, 1999, of severe head and internal injuries.

Circuit Judge Gail Nakatani sentenced Julian yesterday to five years' probation, one year in jail and 400 hours of community service.

"What you did was a crime -- a crime as terrible and heinous as any other homicide," Nakatani said.

"You had free will that night, that morning, not to drink, not to operate your vehicle while intoxicated and not to speed. But you exercised extremely poor judgment."

Julian had pleaded guilty in December to causing Ynfante's death by driving his car in a negligent manner and causing serious bodily injury to Anastasia Spyros, a passenger in another car who continues to suffer from back injuries. Julian also sideswiped a third car before fleeing the scene.

The state had asked that Julian be sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment, the maximum possible, to send a message that drunken driving will not be tolerated.

"Melissa Ynfante will never get a second chance at life," said Deputy Prosecutor Keith Seto. "What he took from her family can never be replaced."

When arrested, Julian had a blood alcohol content of 0.23 percent, nearly three times the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

His arrest and Ynfante's death resurrected painful memories of another tragedy 15 years ago when Julian's 16-year-old sister Dawn Marie and friend Elizabeth Ann Thompson were killed by a drunken driver as they stood along Kalanianaole Highway.

Julian's older brother Richard -- Thompson's boyfriend -- who was also standing with them, survived but is now in a wheelchair.

As members of both families and friends looked on yesterday in the courtroom, Julian apologized to the Ynfantes -- who flew from Australia for the proceedings -- for the pain he has caused, asked for their forgiveness and hoped they can someday begin healing.

"I'm not an animal," he said. "I'm a caring, compassionate person who made a mistake, and I'm willing to pay for my mistake."

He attributed his turning to alcohol and drugs at age 13 to cope with his sister's death.

"The pain and suffering we went through -- we didn't heal as a family," Julian said.

He has been sober since the crash he caused.

Howard Luke, Julian's attorney, said his client will never drink again and has devoted his life to ensuring others not go through what he and other victims of drunken driving have suffered.

Since his arrest and even before the legal proceedings, Julian sought and completed drug abuse treatment. After a year with the substance abuse program "Start Now," he is sharing his experience with intermediate and high school kids in hopes he will be a positive influence on their decision-making.

While the Ynfantes feel that nothing the courts do will bring Melissa back, they believed Julian should have been sentenced to longer than a one-year term.

"We're not bitter people -- we just think the crime deserves the time, and he should have done the time," said Steve Hull, the husband of Ynfante's oldest sister, Marigel. "Melissa's life was worth more than that."

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