Stephen Darnell, 47, is remorseful for the 2016 death of Choua Yang, a Fresno girl who died at age 17 after Darnell decided to drive drunk.
In Fresno County Superior Court Friday, defense attorney Ken Hamilton said Darnell accepts full responsibility and wants to pay for the damage he caused.
He will spend 270 days in Fresno County Jail and a subsequent four years on probation with suspended driving privileges. The case was difficult for Judge Michael Idiart, who called the sentencing decision a challenging one.
“You’ve worked, taken care of your family, you have a special needs child, you’ve shown remorse,” Idiart said. “But I’m also dealing with a death and serious injuries.”
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In November 2016, Yang died when Darnell broadsided a red Honda driven by a 22-year-old man who also had his 53-year-old mother as a passenger. Darnell was southbound on Maple Avenue approaching Olive Avenue about 8:30 a.m. when he ran a red light and hit the Honda, which was eastbound on Olive Avenue.
In court Friday, Deputy District Attorney John Tully said Darnell cooperated with authorities following the crash and showed guilt for what had happened. His blood-alcohol content level was above the legal limit of .08.
Tully said the Yang family wished no ill will toward Darnell. Their only hope was that Darnell would take full responsibility for the crash that took away a member of the family. Tully said Darnell has indeed shown that the crash was his fault. The family was not present in court Friday despite being invited. “I can only assume that their desire and perspective has not changed,” Tully said.
Darnell was placed in handcuffs and immediately taken into custody from the courtroom. Before that, Idiart had asked Darnell if he cared to comment. Darnell, who kept his head down during most of his court appearance, declined.
Once he is out of jail, Darnell will face hurdles that come with complying with the court’s probation orders.
“It’s going to be a little bit of a challenge with his probation, because his work does take him from place to place,” said Hamilton. But Darnell has promised to fully cooperate with his probation.
Along with a suspended license, Darnell is ordered not to drink or be around alcohol. Those conditions were among the many that came with the probation order.
In handing down his sentence Friday, Idiart noted Darnell’s clean criminal record, his steady job and his responsibilities at home, which include parenting a special needs child. Numerous letters on behalf of Darnell were submitted to the court by coworkers, friends and family. Idiart said he was impressed by all of them.
But Idiart reminded Darnell that the penalties will be more severe if he ever again commits a similar crime.
“If there is a next time, it probably would be a murder prosecution,” the judge said.