A teenage boy — the son of a multimillionaire businessman — was ordered Thursday to serve seven to nine months in a juvenile camp for speeding in a Lamborghini SUV that slammed into a car and killed a woman in West Los Angeles.
Juvenile Court Judge Sabina A. Helton ordered the driver — who was 17 1/2 at the time of the Feb. 17 crash and has since turned 18 — to be taken into custody at the end of the hearing, which stretched over four days and included emotional statements from the teen, his mother and the victim’s family members and friends.
Rejecting the defense’s bid for placement in a private program or a delay in immediately being taken into custody, Helton said a “tragedy” occurred that day when Monique Muñoz’s car was “hit at high speed” by a vehicle with the teen behind the wheel as he drove at high speed in a 35-mph zone at the time of the collision.
“The tragedy that occurred on that day was a long time in the making …,” Helton said, calling it an “avoidable accident.”
Helton noted that the boy had been given a “very high-performance car” and that his parents were aware he had received two citations in 2020 from Beverly Hills police including one in which the vehicle was impounded and subsequently returned to the teen.
Helton said the teen “needs a structured environment and 24-hour supervision,” and urged him to “fully engage” in the programs that will be offered to him. She noted that he will be on probation once he completes his time in juvenile camp and told him that it is within his control to “change yourself and your actions going forward.”
“I do believe that you regret what happened,” Helton told the teen.
The teen — whose name is being withheld because of his age at the time of the crime — admitted a Juvenile Court petition charging him with vehicular manslaughter at an April 23 court hearing.
Speaking shortly before Helton announced the disposition in his case, he apologized to the family of the 32-year-old woman, who wanted to be a juvenile probation officer.
“Please know that I am so deeply sorry from the bottom of my heart,” he said. “I hate myself because I am so ashamed at what I’ve done … I’m so broken inside. I don’t want to live sometimes.”
He swore that he would never hurt anyone on purpose and said he takes “full responsibility for causing Monique’s death.”
“I accept what’s coming to me,” he said.
Relatives of the victim and activists initially alleged that charges were not quickly filed against the teen — the case was filed in April — because of the wealth and influence of his father, James Khuri, described by Forbes as a multimillionaire who owns several real estate firms, manufacturing companies and an e-commerce business.
Los Angeles Police Department Capt. Brian Wendling told the Los Angeles Times the Lamborghini driver’s arrest was only delayed by the fact that he had to be hospitalized for injuries sustained in the crash.
The elder Khuri has apologized to Muñoz’s family via Instagram, offering “my support in any way you will allow me to” and that he and his family “pray for the Muñoz family.”
Turning toward the victim’s family who packed one side of the courtroom, the teen’s mother choked back tears as she told them that she was “gutted” by what they were going through and wanted them to know she was “so sorry” and prays every day for Muñoz.
“I promise you that he is not a bad person,” she said. “He wants to be a better person … I hope some day you can find forgiveness.”
The victim’s mother, Carol Cardona, called for justice for her daughter.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t miss her,” she said, describing her daughter as her best friend.
Deputy District Attorney Kelly Kraetsch urged the judge to hold the teen “accountable for this tragedy” by sending him to a juvenile camp, saying that the youth had been repeatedly warned about his driving but was “racing his girlfriend” in rush-hour traffic.
The prosecutor said the teen had been “shielded by privilege,” but said “justice must be blind to that privilege.”
The teen’s attorney, Mark Werksman, countered that his client — whom he said has been diagnosed with a number of conditions including autism spectrum disorder — should be placed in a private program.
The defense lawyer told the judge that he worried that the teen “will be targeted” because of the high-profile case and “will be in danger” in juvenile hall.
Werksman called his client a “decent young man” who was “driving a car he never should have had,” but said what happened was “an accident.”
“It is absolutely a horrendous tragedy that she died,” Werksman told the judge, noting that his client and his client’s family have exhibited remorse.
He said his client was hospitalized for 10 days following the crash, which left Muñoz dead at the scene.
LAPD Officer Daniel Whitmore, who analyzed the event data recorder from the Lamborghini SUV after the crash, testified last week that the vehicle’s speed was recorded at 86 mph five seconds before the impact, with the driver’s foot “completely on the gas pedal 100%” and the vehicle’s speed reaching 106 mph less than two seconds before the collision.
The officer said the data then showed the Lamborghini’s driver applying the vehicle’s brakes, with the SUV moving somewhere between 77 and 92 mph when it collided with Muñoz’s Lexus, which was making a left turn at the intersection of Olympic Boulevard and Overland Avenue.
LAPD Detective Jorge Trejo, the lead investigator on the crash, testified that surveillance video recovered from a location nearby shows the collision, and that he spoke with several witnesses, including a woman who saw two cars pass her on the median before the collision.
The teen had been stopped by Beverly Hills police in October 2020 and November 2020 — with body-worn video from the two stops indicating that he was cited first for driving 72 mph in a 35-mph zone and then cited for making an “unsafe start” by accelerating very fast with that officer deciding to impound the vehicle. In both instances, the officers noted that he was supposed to be driving with someone who was at least 25 under the rules of a learner’s permit.
In testimony for the defendant, a clinical psychologist who did a neuropsychological assessment of the teen in August said he reported having nightmares and flashbacks of thoughts of the crash victim, although he told her he doesn’t remember the collision.
Dr. Karen Schiltz testified that she concluded he needed intervention, but said he would not do well in a locked county facility because he cannot interpret social cues.
“He had no friends. He bought his friends,” she testified.
After the hearing, Werksman said the defense was “disappointed,” but respects the judge’s ruling.
One of the victim’s uncles, Richard Cartier, told reporters outside court, “This guy was a racer and a killer. That’s what he was … This guy was meant to kill somebody and he sure did. He killed my niece … I have no more nieces. As I’ve stated earlier, when my niece went away, my soul went with her.”
Cartier — who has been outspoken on his only niece’s behalf — said, “What I think about the sentence is that’s not even a sentence, you know. That’s just like taking off the belt and here’s a spanking, and I call it the lollipop sentence and going to Camp Snoopy.”
Cartier told reporters last week that he wished the teen could do “50 years so he’ll never drive again and he’ll understand the consequences of what he’s done.”