A prosecutor told a judge Wednesday that a teenage boy who was speeding in a Lamborghini SUV that slammed into and killed a woman in West Los Angeles should be sent to a juvenile camp, while the youth’s attorney countered that his client should be placed in a private program.
The teen — who was 17 at the time of the Feb. 17 crash that killed Monique Munoz — admitted a Juvenile Court petition charging him with vehicular manslaughter at an April 23 court hearing.
Deputy District Attorney Kelly Kraetsch told Juvenile Court Judge Sabina A. Helton that the 32-year-old woman’s life was cut short by the defendant’s “recklessness,” saying that he was “racing his girlfriend.”
“… It is not the scene of an accident. It is the scene of a crime,” the prosecutor said in her opening statement in the teen’s disposition hearing, which is expected to run through Friday.
“This wasn’t even close to the first time that the minor had driven like he didn’t care who he killed … We can’t risk anything like this happening again.”
The youth’s attorney, Mark Werksman, acknowledged that his client was “driving at an excessive speed” and called Munoz’s death “a tragic accident,” but said that the youth’s conduct while he’s been on house arrest shows that “he can be a good citizen.”
The defense lawyer said the youth — who spent 10 days in a hospital after the crash and “didn’t walk away unscathed” — has been diagnosed with a number of conditions, including autism spectrum disorder. Placing him in a juvenile camp setting would deprive him of the care he needs, according to Werksman.
Los Angeles Police Department Officer Daniel Whitmore, who analyzed the event data recorder data from the Lamborghini SUV after the crash, testified 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 impact occurring as he was traveling somewhere between 77 and 92 mph when he collided with Munoz’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 the crash occurred during rush-hour traffic in a 35-mph zone and that Munoz died at the scene.
Trejo said 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.
Investigators learned that 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.
Trejo said he also spoke with two valets at a hotel near where the teen’s mother lives, including one who said he had “never seen a kid so reckless in his driving.”
As the door to the Inglewood courtroom opened every now and then, chants could be heard from outside the courthouse of “Justice for Monique.”
Munoz’s uncle, Richard Cartier, said it took his breath away to watch the surveillance video of the crash on a large screen in the courtroom.
“Nothing’s prepared me when you actually see the real thing,” he told reporters outside the courthouse during a lunch break.
“I want this kid to do some serious time and I want his father to feel the pain of that. I want him to do 50 years if I had it my way. He does not need to come out and drive ever again, ever.”
The woman’s cousin, Stephanie Crespin, wearing a face mask with Munoz’s photo, said the family has concentrated on “fighting for justice for Monique” and hasn’t even had the opportunity to grieve properly “because we just feel we’ve had to fight for her from the beginning, to have charges filed, to keep the case visible and just be sure that there’s justice served.”
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.
LAPD 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 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.”
The teen’s parents were in court for their son’s hearing, which is set to continue Thursday.
In an interview earlier this year with ABC7, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón maintained that the teen had been “appropriately charged for the crime that he committed … which caused the death of Monique Munoz.”
Gascón said the issue of what penalty the teen should face is “something that’s up to the court, and I’m sure the court is going to do the right things based on the law.”
Gascón issued a directive the day he was sworn into office last December, in which he pledged that the office “will immediately end the practice of sending youth to the adult court system.”
The directive notes that the District Attorney’s Office will be guided by principles including a prosecutorial approach that “should be biased towards keeping youth out of the juvenile justice system and when they must become involved, our system must employ the `lightest touch’ necessary in order to provide public safety.”
Gascón has cited research showing that the human brain is not fully developed until the mid-20s, leading young people to make more impulsive decisions.