Keanan Tantog broke down before the family of his childhood friend Bobby Gouveia in Circuit Court yesterday, asking them to forgive him for the night of drinking and racing that left Gouveia dead in the passenger seat of his wrecked car four years ago.
While Gouveia’s family — many of whom know Tantog well — said it pained them to ask the court for extended jail time and that they did not think Tantog’s youth should be an excuse for his fatal choice to drink and drive.
"Our community is so small and we’re all good friends," said Brandon Repollo, a friend of both the victim and driver. "It’s hard, but we just want justice."
Tantog, now 22, was sentenced yesterday to one year in prison and 10 years’ probation by Circuit Judge Dexter Del Rosario after being convicted in April of first-degree negligent homicide and first-degree negligent injury.
The victim’s family asked the judge to impose the maximum prison sentence of 15 years — 10 for negligent homicide and five for negligent injury — but Del Rosario said that was too harsh for the 22-year-old father of three without any prior criminal record. Del Rosario called the accident a "tragic mistake" and urged Gouveia to share his story with teenagers unaware of the dangers of drunken driving.
"The tragedy of this case is not one of these young people understood the gravity of the situation they were in," Del Rosario said. "We hope that others will learn from this."
At yesterday’s hearing, Tantog spoke directly to the victim’s family, stuttering through sobs. He vowed to use his situation as a teaching tool at talks at local high schools.
"It’s like a nightmare that I live through every night," Tantog said. "I want to remind the young ones of what happened so there’s no more of this."
On Oct. 22, 2006, an 18-year-old Tantog was driving drunk with Gouveia in the front passenger seat when he lost control of his vehicle and crossed the center line on Farrington Highway in Mokuleia. Tantog was racing with friends in a multiple-car convoy and was erratically leapfrogging with the other cars.
Tantog’s 1991 Acura Integra — which prosecutors said was traveling at 100 mph — struck a Civil Defense siren pole and flipped over before coming to rest at Dillingham Airfield. Gouveia died at the scene, while Tantog and another 17-year-old passenger were seriously injured.
Tantog was acquitted in a nonjury trial in April of manslaughter charges, but was convicted of the lesser negligent homicide offense. Following their disappointment with the conviction, Gouveia’s family expressed hope the judge would impose a harsh prison sentence.
Gouveia’s family came away from yesterday’s hearing disappointed.
"It’s not really what we thought it would be, but what is done is done," said Gouveia’s mother, Johanna Ramos. "We can get a little closure."
Gouveia, who was also 18, was a student at the Universal Technical School in Avondale, Ariz., and hoped to open an auto shop in Hawaii after graduation. He was remembered by family as a caring friend, talented mechanic and a loving son, inseparable from his mother.
"Bobby boy will never have the chance to do all of these things because of someone’s choice to drink and drive," Ramos said. "It’s just a loss and loneliness I can never describe."