Lady Justice 4 16-9

A 26-year-old man was sentenced Friday to 15 years to life in state prison for killing one woman and injuring two others in a wrong- way crash on the Riverside (91) Freeway in Anaheim three years ago.

Ruben Gurrola was convicted Nov. 13 of second-degree murder and drunken driving with injury. Jurors also found true sentencing enhancements for inflicting great bodily injury and multiple victims.

Young Kim, one of the victims in the crash, told Orange County Superior Court Judge Sheila Hanson how the collision has left him struggling with physical and emotional trauma.

“My whole life changed after that accident,” Kim said. “I feel like it was my fault… I lost everything I had, including my income the past three years.”

Kim told the judge he is overcome with grief and remorse for the death of his friend, Kyung “Sally” Namgoong, who was in the passenger seat of Kim’s car.

“I want to commit suicide, like I want to kill myself,” Kim said. “I feel so bad for Sally’s family… I have this burden on me I won’t be able to get rid of for the rest of my life.”

Namgoong’s family assured Kim after the hearing it was not his fault. Kim broke his heels and was hospitalized for three weeks and needed a wheelchair for two months after the crash. He needed a cane in court today.

Namgoong’s sister, Rose McMillen, had her husband read a letter to the judge in court today explaining how the Jan. 29, 2012, crash affected their family.

“In the years and months it has taken us to get to this point we’ve gone through a lot of tears, pan, anger, fear and even sympathy for the defendant’s family,” McMillen said.

The churchgoing Namgoong, 53, worked hard to care for her two children — a son 30 and daughter 15 at the time of her death — and was “an amazing artist and dreamed of being a fashion designer,” McMillen said.

Gurrola apologized to the victim’s family.

“I am very heartbroken and remorseful,” Gurrola said. “I wish God had taken me instead.”

The defendant said he found religion while in jail and has organized a Bible study group.

“To Ms. Namgoong’s family and Mr. Kim, I understand this pain is too great to expect forgiveness,” Gurrola said. “I only hope these words can offer some consolation.”

Hanson told the defendant, “I hope perhaps something good can come from this,” such as Gurrola warning others not to drink and drive.

“One would only hope people can learn from this event,” Hanson said.

The night of Jan. 28, Gurrola and his girlfriend, Allison Poon, went to a friend’s home in the Newport Peninsula to have drinks before going to the Sutra nightclub, where their friend was the DJ for the evening, Senior Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Walker said. They all piled into a cab for the ride to the Costa Mesa club, where they drank some more, and planned to take a taxi back to their friend’s home to sleep off the effects of the alcohol, she said.

Instead, Gurrola got behind the wheel of his 2009 Honda Civic, with Poon in the passenger seat, and decided to try to drive home to San Diego, the prosecutor said.

Gurrola ended up heading north in the southbound lanes of the 241 toll road, and then eastbound in the westbound lanes of the 91 Freeway in the Anaheim area, Walker said. Other motorists were flashing their lights at the wayward driver, who flashed his lights in response, she said.

About 1:40 in the morning, the Civic slammed head-on into a 2011 Toyota Camry driven by Kim. His passenger, Namgoong, was pronounced dead about an hour after the crash.

Gurrola’s blood-alcohol level, which was tested at the hospital about 3:15 a.m., was measured at .18, well above the legal limit of .08.

In arguing that Gurrola understood the dangers of drinking and driving, Walker said the defendant was involved in a September 2009 crash in Covina due to speeding, and was issued a citation for alcohol possession as a juvenile that required him to take a class that instructed him about the hazards of driving under the influence.

Gurrola’s attorney said his client and girlfriend were kicked out of Sutra after they got drunk and were bickering.

The two took a cab back to their friend’s home in Newport Beach, but no one was there, and they waited a long time before Gurrola got behind the wheel of his car, defense attorney Anthony Taylor said.

—City News Service

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