Photo via Wikimedia Commons
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The shocked relatives of four people run down and killed outside a church Christmas concert were “very disappointed” Tuesday over the light “slap in the face” sentence for the killer driver.

The woman who drove into the group of pedestrians leaving a Christmas concert at a Redondo Beach church, killing four of them, pleaded no contest Tuesday to four counts of vehicular manslaughter and was immediately sentenced to three years and four months in state prison.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Laura F. Priver gave Margo Julie Bronstein, 57, credit for 1,105 days served behind bars, making it unclear how much longer she would be in custody.

Some of the victims’ family members — who had been asking for the maximum 10-year sentence — said outside court that they were shocked by the amount of time Bronstein was ordered to serve.

According to police, Bronstein ran a red light around 8 p.m. Dec. 17, 2014, and plowed into a group of pedestrians who had just attended a Christmas concert at St. James Catholic School and Parish near Pacific Coast Highway and Vincent Street in Redondo Beach.

The group was walking across PCH when they were struck by the northbound white Saturn. Bronstein continued through the intersection, swerved into the southbound lanes and slammed into another vehicle — all while dragging 6-year- old Samuel Gaza, a kindergartener at the church school. He wound up pinned under a front tire of Bronstein’s car.

Also killed were Samuel’s mother, 36-year-old Martha Gaza, and Mary Ann Wilson, 81, and Saeko Matsumura, 87, all of Torrance.

Bronstein pleaded no contest to four counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence — without any pre-arranged plea agreement with prosecutors — and could have received up to 10 years behind bars. The prosecution had asked for an eight-year prison sentence, while the victims’ family members along with some who witnessed the crash or its deadly aftermath called on the judge to impose the maximum sentence.

Bronstein was originally accused of being under the influence of prescription medication at the time of the crash, but attorneys said Tuesday that toxicology tests determined medication was not a factor.

Defense attorney Kenneth Erlich told the victims’ family members that Bronstein suffers from severe compression of the spine and experienced an “explosion of pain” just before the crash.

David Aguilar — whose sister and nephew were killed in the crash — said that even the maximum sentence would pale in comparison to what was lost.

Outside court, he called the sentence “very shocking.”

Martha Gaza’s aunt, Nelly Caywood, said she was “very disappointed.”

“To me, this is not justice. It’s a slap on the face. It’s a mockery of justice.”

Others told the judge that they were in court to try to find out answers about why the deadly crash happened.

“We’ve been waiting a long time for answers,” John Wilson Jr. said of the crash that killed his mother. “We were hoping a jury trial would give us some.”

He said his mother — who had survived a battle with cancer — was walking right behind him in the crosswalk.

“I turned around and she was gone … I had to find my mom. I found her about 15 to 20 feet away,” he said. “I walked back to the crosswalk to retrieve her shoes.”

Wilson’s daughter, Donna, told the judge, “Half of me died that day and I will never be whole again.”

Matsumura’s granddaughter, Katie Takaki, said she has many questions about why the crash happened and called it a “terrible” night in which family members were split between hospitals where her aunt and cousin were being treated when they learned from her father that he was able to make it to another hospital in Torrance to spend time with her grandmother in her “final moments.”

“To be honest, it felt like a terrible nightmare,” she told the judge.

Speaking directly to Bronstein, she told her, “I hope you never get your license back to do this to anyone ever again.”

Others who were in the crosswalk that night described the horror they had seen after the crash, with one describing “all these bodies up in the air” and nearby children witnessing them landing on the ground and another saying there were “bodies everywhere.”

Brian Laine told the judge that the crash narrowly missed he and his two daughters and that he initially thought a bomb had gone off.

He said he saw “bodies scattered all over the place” and ran to try to offer his assistance, but said there was nothing he could do.

“It’s not something I’ll ever forget,” Laine said.

Deputy District Attorney Bob Chen urged the judge to hold Bronstein “accountable for her actions,” while the woman’s attorney spoke on her behalf at her request.

Erlich said his client wanted to express her “profound remorse” and her “deepest apologies,” and had apologized at the scene to a California Highway Patrol officer who came up to her vehicle that night.

“She does not want to drive again, ever again,” the defense attorney said, noting that his client suffers from ongoing nightmares and anxiety about what happened.

In sentencing Bronstein, the judge told the victims’ family members, “No sentence that this court imposes will change what happened on that day … I sympathize and I empathize with your loss.”

But she noted that Bronstein had no prior criminal record and that investigators ultimately determined that she was not driving under the influence at the time of the crash.

The judge said she did not have the ability to suspend Bronstein’s driver’s license, but said she would “strongly recommend” that Bronstein never drive again and would suggest that state parole officials order Bronstein not to drive a motor vehicle once she is released from custody.

— Wire reports 

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