By TERRI VERMEULEN KEITH
A young drunk driver on Halloween night 2019 and ran down a Long Beach couple and their 3-year-old son was sentenced Thursday to 25 years to life in prison.
Carlo Adrian Navarro, 23, was convicted in July of three counts each of murder and gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated stemming from the deaths of Joseph Awaida, 30, Raihan Dakhil Awaida, 32, and their son, Omar. The family was struck around 9:55 p.m. Oct. 31, 2019, in the area of Country Club Drive and Los Cerritos Park Place.
Joseph Awaida died that night. The couple’s son died Nov. 2, and his mother died the following day.
Navarro — who was 20 at the time of the crash — apologized in court to the victims’ family members, saying, “I wish I could bring them back, but I can’t.”
He told the court that facing the victims’ relatives was his biggest fear, “knowing that I’ll never be able to give you guys back what you lost.”
He added, “I am truly sorry.”
Superior Court Judge Laura Laesecke called the crash an “unspeakable tragedy” and said she knows that Navarro “didn’t intend to kill the Awaida family, but his actions caused the loss of two generations.”
“Mr. Navarro, this was not just an average night when you were going out with your buddies. This was Halloween,” the judge said, adding that the decision that weighs most heavily on her was Navarro’s “decision to speed.”
Navarro was driving 60 mph in a residential neighborhood, and “that is what took this family,” the judge said.
Navarro was driving a 2002 Toyota Sequoia southbound on Country Club Drive and failed to make a turn, according to Long Beach police. Instead, he drove onto the sidewalk and hit the family as they were walking home after a night of trick-or-treating, authorities said.
The defendant could have faced as much as 45 years to life in prison, but the judge opted against imposing the maximum term.
She noted that Navarro had no prior criminal record and that he “stopped and took responsibility right there” after the deadly crash — which she said some adults don’t do.
The judge said she had reason to believe the defendant could be an asset to the community, adding that perhaps he could advocate for a law — perhaps named in honor of the 3-year-old boy — that would require ignition interlock devices for young drivers who would need to provide a breath sample before starting a vehicle.
“Try to use this time to do something good,” the judge told the defendant.
Grieving family members of the victims also spoke in court during the emotional hearing in a Long Beach courtroom.
“There are no words to describe the loss,” Joseph Awaida’s mother and Omar’s grandmother, Vera, said. “The defendant has given us a life sentence … The world has lost more than it will ever know.”
“You used your car as a weapon and you ran over my family,” Joseph Awaida’s aunt, Cecilia Ramos, told Navarro.
Raihan Awaida’s father, Faisal Dakhil, told the judge, “On Halloween night … I lost not one, not two, three members of my own family.”
“It’s a loss that we can’t describe,” he said, noting that their photos are “plastered all over our house.”
Just over a week after Navarro’s conviction, a woman who prosecutors said operated a liquor store that furnished alcohol to Navarro before the crash pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of furnishing alcohol to a minor who consumed the alcohol and “thereby proximately causes great bodily injury to themselves or any other person.”
The woman, Amor Potestades Amacio, also pleaded guilty to a count of conspiracy to obstruct licensing provisions of the Alcohol Beverage Control Act because she was operating a liquor store, Green Diamond Liquor, without approval from the state department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, according to the Long Beach City Prosecutor’s Office.
A video obtained by prosecutors shows Amacio handing a bottle of whiskey to Navarro without asking for identification or taking payment, according to prosecutors. The young man said in a statement that the woman knew he was under 21, had sold him alcohol multiple times in the past and had directed him to return to the store the following day with $25 to pay for the $16 bottle of whiskey, according to the City Prosecutor’s Office.
Amacio was banned from ever holding a liquor license or participating in any business or other commercial activity involving the sale or distribution of alcoholic beverages in California, along with being sentenced to 364 days in custody, five years probation and 720 hours of community service, according to prosecutors.
She was also ordered to submit proof of at least $1 million in civil liability insurance that may be used to pay restitution to the victims’ family, along with a $1,000 donation to a local charity selected by the victims’ family, according to the City Prosecutor’s Office.
Amacio’s daughter, Syntyche Amacio, of Norwalk, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obstruct licensing provisions of the Alcohol Beverage Control Act for being the “paper owner” of the liquor store while allowing her mother to operate it, according to the City Prosecutor’s Office.
Prosecutors contended that Syntyche applied for and was issued a license to operate the liquor store in North Long Beach, but that the store was operated by her mother, whom prosecutors said would not have been issued a new liquor license after being convicted in a case involving food stamps.
The younger Amacio was not present when alcohol was provided to Navarro, and there was no evidence she had provided alcohol to minors on previous occasions, prosecutors said.
Like her mother, Syntyche Amacio was also banned from holding a liquor license or participating in any business or other commercial activity involving the sale or distribution of alcoholic beverages in California. She was also ordered to serve one year probation, complete 40 hours of community service and to donate $1,000 to a local charity selected by the Awaida family, according to the City Prosecutor’s Office.
“This is one of the most tragic events to ever happen in Long Beach, and it was entirely preventable,” City Prosecutor Doug Haubert said in a statement released in July “There is nothing a misdemeanor case can do to bring justice to the Awaida family, but we hope this will help prevent a similar tragedy in the future.”