The driver who killed loved ones of Sandra Storm-Conway pays a small monthly sum
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jun 26, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 10:10 p.m. HST, Jun 26, 2011
In the aftermath of the 2007 drunken-driving crash that killed her sister and cousin, Sandra Storm-Conway says, she has become a passionate advocate for victims' rights.
Storm-Conway, 52, moved to Ogden, Utah, following the deaths of her sister Raquel Akau, 38, and her cousin, Michelle Benevedes, 39, but she has remained the spokeswoman for the families. The inadequate restitution payments, she said, have left her and her relatives angry and frustrated.
Tyler Duarte, then 17, was under the influence of drugs and alcohol and speeding when he lost control of his family's Ford Explorer and crashed into the victims' Honda on Kalanianaole Highway in Waimanalo the night of Jan. 20, 2007. Duarte pleaded guilty to two counts of negligent homicide and fleeing the scene.
"You killed all of us, in some way, shape or form," Storm-Conway said at Duarte's sentencing.
Duarte received a five-year probation term and a two-year jail sentence that was eventually reduced to 18 months, according to the court file.
He was also ordered to pay about $7,000 in restitution for the funeral expenses for the two victims at a rate of $500 per month.
But Duarte committed another crime. He admitted burning a car in May 2008, pleaded guilty to theft and insurance fraud and received an additional nine-month jail term. He and two co-defendants also were ordered to pay $24,451 in restitution to the insurance company.
In June 2010, Duarte's restitution amount for the funeral expenses for the two women was reset to $30 a month.
STORM-CONWAY, WHO has written letters to state lawmakers asking for stiffer mandatory sentences for negligent homicide offenders and better tracking of restitution payments, said words can't express their "anger, rage and grief" each time she and her relatives feel let down by the system.
She complained to the probation department last year that she wasn't apprised of the second criminal case or changes in their restitution payments.
Janice Yamada, who was in charge of Oahu's probation department at the time, acknowledged that the probation officer didn't notify her of changes in the restitution payments within the 30 days required by department policy, and apologized.
Frustrated by the payments, Storm-Conway said, she reluctantly accepted last year $1,713 from the Crime Victim Compensation Commission, which is seeking reimbursement from Duarte. The amount was the difference between the $1,963 that Duarte was supposed to pay for her sister's funeral and the $249.99 that he already paid.
Although she is no longer getting restitution payments, her aunt Yvonne Benevedes started receiving $10 monthly restitution checks this year.
He already paid $249.99, but at $10 a month, he won't come close to paying the full $5,269 before his five-year probation expires, Storm-Conway noted.
Storm-Conway's relatives have obtained settlements from lawsuits against the insurance company that covered the car Duarte was driving, but Storm-Conway said she and her relatives feel it is essential that Duarte pays the money himself.
"I wanted him personally to pay for the funerals so that every single time he wrote that check or he made a money order he knew that it was going to pay for someone he killed," Storm-Conway said. "I wanted that to sit with him until he finally matures and takes responsibility for what he did."
DUARTE TOLD THE Star-Advertiser that when he got out of jail, he started paying his restitution for both cases.
He said he's taken over his father's cleaning business, and is performing community service and paying as much restitution as he can afford.
Duarte, now 21, said he wants to eventually pay the entire restitution.
"There is not a day that goes by that this is not on my mind," he said.
Storm-Conway said that if Duarte is truly remorseful, he could get a loan from family or friends to pay restitution to her cousin's mother, Yvonne Benevedes, while she's still alive.
She said her uncle Brian Benevedes, Yvonne's husband and Michelle's father, suffered a heart attack just after he left Duarte's sentencing, and later died.
Storm-Conway said she still hears her sister's screams in her dreams and wakes up in tears.
"Maybe it's a big sister thing, the guilt of not being there to help her and knowing that she was screaming and screaming for her life, and no one could help her," Storm-Conway said.
"We thought our girls could rest in peace," she said, recalling the day of the sentencing.
"He's going to pay for their funerals and he's going to be responsible for paying their funerals. We thought it was over. It has never been over," she said. "It is like being victimized every single day."