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Driver in fatal Tokay High accident sentenced to probation

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Posted: Tuesday, January 17, 2006 10:00 pm

A judge Tuesday sentenced a Lodi man to three years of probation and 320 hours of community sentence for his role in a fatal accident in front of Tokay High School.

Jonathan Bianchi, now 21, will not serve any jail time - something San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Bob McNatt said would be inappropriate considering what he called a "tragic" case. The judge also pointed to numerous letters from friends, family members and teachers who told of Bianchi's involvement with organizations such as the Boy Scouts, and his lack of any criminal record.

"He has done what I think every parent hopes their kid would grow up to be," McNatt said of his community involvement, adding that Bianchi would likely punish himself more than anyone else would.

A jury last month convicted Bianchi of three counts of vehicular manslaughter and one count of reckless driving in connection with the March 4, 2004, accident.

Sukhdeep Kaur, 17, and Sharnjit Dhillon, 15, were crossing West Century Boulevard to the high school that morning when Bianchi's truck struck them. Kaur went into a coma and died of her injuries 10 days later in a hospital. Dhillon spent nearly two weeks in the hospital with major injuries but ultimately recovered.

The case went to trial last November, and both Bianchi and a witness driving behind him testified that the morning sun had blinded them as they drove west. Prosecutors said Bianchi had violated the basic speed law by driving faster than the weather conditions allowed.

The jury convicted Bianchi of all four charges, which included an allegation of speeding in a school zone. The jury foreman later told the News-Sentinel that jurors did not believe Bianchi was speeding, and a probation officer noted the statement in his sentencing recommendation.

McNatt denied a defense motion to dismiss the case Tuesday, and attorney Richard Gibson said after court that he was still considering whether to file an appeal.

About 30 of Bianchi's friends and family members attended the sentencing, and several cried as they left court. His mother, Linda Bianchi, said she did not understand how someone could be charged with three counts of manslaughter when only one person was killed.

"One death cannot equal three convictions," she said after court.

The case has taken its toll on the family, and McNatt said Bianchi would likely remember that March morning for the rest of his life. Bianchi, who did not speak at the sentencing, nodded.

McNatt also said he hopes that Bianchi will be able to speak to other young drivers as part of his community service.

Kaur's parents and Dhillon attended the sentencing and declined to speak. Through Deputy District Attorney John Soldati, they said it was too difficult for them to talk about the case.

"Nothing that is done in this court here today is going to rectify what was done (that day)," he said.

An attorney who has served as the Kaur family's spokesman said after the verdict that they would be satisfied with a sentence of community service.

Contact reporter Layla Bohm at layla@lodinews.com.

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