Family members of Anne Baldock, 24, of La Jolla, and Madison Cornwell, 23, of Mission Viejo, spoke about their losses at the sentencing of Jason Riley King, now 24, who is a former Marine.
“The pain will last a lifetime. Madison dreamed of becoming a doctor,” said her mother Laura Cornwell, who said it was painful to know her daughter’s dream “will never be realized.”
“Grief takes its toll on each one differently,” said Laura Cornwell. “Madison would have used her talents to help others.”
King drove the wrong way on Interstate 163 on May 15, 2015 at 1:40 a.m. and struck the vehicle with the medical students while he was intoxicated.
Deputy District Attorney Cally Bright read a letter from Baldock’s mother, Lifen Wang, who was in the audience, and recounted the shock of receiving a phone call informing her that her daughter was dead.
“The world will never see the good things Annie would have done if she became a doctor,” Wang wrote. “Her focus in medical school was brain research.”
“Losing Annie has left a huge hole in my heart that will never go away,” wrote Wang, who noted her husband died some years ago and has only one other daughter.
A jury on Jan. 22 acquitted King of two counts of second-degree murder but convicted him of two counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and three counts of causing great bodily injury to three survivors in the same car.
King, who was seriously injured in the crash, has been in jail since the incident and he received credit of already serving 1,210 days in jail from San Diego Superior Court Judge Joan Weber.
Weber ordered King to pay $139,655 in expenses to the families of the victims.
Also speaking was Maki Iizuka, the mother of Yuki Iizuka, of La Jolla, who spent many months in a coma and suffered brain injuries. She said her son has resumed his medical studies, but “it takes longer to study” as a result of the crash.
“Yuki is alive and we’re thankful for that,” said Maki Iizuka, who urged King to learn about brain injuries while in custody.
“I want you to contribute to society. Use your life to pay back what you have done,” said Maki Iizuka to King.
“You won’t be able to undo what you have done,” said Haru Iizuka, the father of Maki Iizuka.
Dressed in blue jail clothes, King stood up and turned towards the victims’ families in the audience and apologized in his first public statement.
“I’m completely overwhelmed by everything that happened. I’m deeply sorry to have taken (lives) from you,” said King.
“There will never be a day I don’t hate myself for taking them away from you,” said King. “I’m so sorry, from the bottom of my heart, I’m sorry.”
His attorney, Richard Hutton, said King had been read to plead guilty to gross vehicular manslaughter, but that was not accepted by the DA’s office who wanted a murder conviction.
“The prosecution insisted it was a murder case and it wasn’t,” said Hutton, who told jurors at trial to “convict him of what he did” but acquit him of murder, which is what the jury did.
“Jason has always accepted responsibility for this,” said Hutton.
Bright said a jury was needed to hear the case to determine if King was guilty of second-degree murder.
She told the judge that King was aware he was a wrong way driver at the time because he put on his hazard lights before colliding into the other vehicle.
Bright urged an 18-year sentence, although Weber said she felt 17 years was the maximum sentence.
King’s military career ended with the crash and he had lived in San Diego a year after joining the Marines after living in a small town from Oklahoma. His family was also present.
Witnesses said King had been drinking with other Marines at a party in Mission Beach and turned down offers of getting a ride. He drove to a Mission Valley restaurant and turned down an offer a ride from someone else there.
Also present were families of the two other injured students, Jared Molitoris and Shosh Ozog, who also testified in the trial. They remain medical students.
Hutton said King wrote out five letters of apology to all five victims’ families and gave them to the prosecutor. Bright handed out the letters after the sentencing to the families afterwards.