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SENTENCING OF NICHOLAS TUDISCO
"I just wanted you to know how much we miss her, loved her and how lost we are without her."
Daughter of victim Elizabeth Kekoa, during yesterday's sentencing
‘Please know how
With an opportunity to ask the court to send Nicholas Tudisco to jail, Kekoa did what his mother would have done.
"I do forgive you," the soft-spoken Kekoa said yesterday to his former Saint Louis baseball teammate, in a courtroom packed with family members and friends of the Tudiscos and Kekoas who strained to hear him speak.
"This is hard for everybody, but ... I do forgive you," Kekoa repeated shortly before Tudisco was sentenced to eight years in prison for recklessly causing the death of Elizabeth Kekoa, 58, a popular Holy Trinity teacher.
Circuit Judge Karl Sakamoto sentenced Tudisco, now 21, as a youthful offender.
Tudisco pleaded no contest in November to manslaughter after admitting that he had been racing on Aug. 26, 2001. Police said he was driving about 100 mph when he lost control of his car, struck the Kekoas' van and sent it crashing into a guardrail on the opposite side of the freeway.
Kekoa, a passenger in the front seat, died of a broken neck. She, her husband, Wally, and her mother were on their way home to Hawaii Kai around 4 a.m. to change for church after celebrating her birthday at an uncle's home.
Tudisco, formerly of Hawaii Kai, expressed remorse publicly for the first time yesterday.
"Not a day goes by that I don't think about what my actions have done to Mrs. Kekoa and her family," he said.
He also was headed home from a friend's house around 4 a.m. when he came upon three or four cars blocking the eastbound lanes, apparently setting up to race. He tried to pass them on the shoulder lane but one of the drivers began tailgating him.
"He was obviously attempting to make me angry and it worked," Tudisco said. "He pulled next to my car and we began to race. Within seconds, I lost control of my car and crashed into the guardrail."
At the time, he didn't realize his car had struck another and that he was responsible, he said. He waited for police to arrive and told them he had been racing and how fast he was driving.
Deputy Prosecutor Kevin Takata asked for the maximum 20 years' imprisonment.
"Street racing is a crime, not a sport. And excess speed turns a car into a lethal weapon just as a finger on the trigger of a gun," Takata said.
He disputed whether Tudisco has accepted responsibility, noting that he pleaded no contest rather than guilty to the charge.
Defense attorney Michael Green argued that while some jail is warranted, Tudisco has been a model student and citizen, before and after the accident, and deserves a second chance.
"This isn't a kid that was slipping through life," he said. "This is a kid that's been honor roll every place he's ever been and there's not a single person that's ever met him that doesn't know the quality of this kid -- but for 20 seconds in his life, so many lives were changed."
Daughter Kristin Kekoa, 24, said since her mother's death, her brother keeps his feelings to himself and she can barely communicate with her dad.
"I just wanted you to know how much we miss her, loved her and how lost we are without her," she said.
Tudisco said his hopes and dreams were always to make his parents proud and to play professional baseball.
After the crash, he enrolled at California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo to study business and play baseball.
Following his indictment in January 2004, he was suspended from the team, his dream of playing ball gone forever. "I realize it's a small price to pay for what happened to the Kekoa family," he said.
"Please know how truly sorry I am, and since Aug. 26, 2001, I have tried to be the best person I can."
He said he's worked hard, remained in school and has shared with others how just seconds of bad judgment can change one's life forever.
After the sentencing, Kekoa's family said they were satisfied with the sentence and hoped the best for Tudisco.
Elizabeth Kekoa would have forgiven him, they said.
"I think she would forgive 'em -- no matter what people do," her husband Wally said. "She was always helping people. That was in her heart."