Nguyen argues against restitution after killing two in fatal accident
By Traci Chapman
An Oklahoma City man who in February filed no contest to killing two people in 2016 while driving drunk has filed an appeal of the sentence imposed on him in the case.
Nhut Hong Nguyen, 60, was convicted of misdemeanor negligent homicide in connection with the August 2016 deaths of 23-year-old Kaylee Hamilton and David Vallerand, 43.
Nguyen in October 2018 waived his right to a jury trial in the case, agreeing to abide by the sentence handed down by District Judge Jack McCurdy; after a two-day hearing during which the Oklahoma City man entered a no contest – guilty – plea, the judge rendered sentence against him.
That sentence was for one year total on both counts, all suspended except 16 days to be served at Canadian County Jail on weekends. In addition, the judge imposed $1,000 in fines and $500 in victim compensation fees – $750 total for each count.
Additionally, McCurdy ordered Nguyen to pay restitution for the death of each victim – as dictated by Oklahoma State Statutes – $16,368 for the first count and $13,096 for the second.
It appeared through a review of court documents this restitution was the primary reason for Nguyen’s appeal of McCurdy’s sentence; Nguyen first attempted to withdraw his guilty plea, which the judge denied.
McCurdy considered Nguyen’s motion and a request to postpone his weekend jail time March 12, denying the defendant’s move to push off serving the jail sentence. The judge did place a hold on the restitution portion of his judgment, pending a determination by Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals on the restitution matter.
Nguyen’s attorney, Jeff Box, argued the Oklahoma City man should not have to pay restitution to the victims’ families because civil lawsuits were already settled between the parties; both prosecutors and McCurdy disagreed, citing case law and state statutes they said confirmed the judge was both entitled – and morally bound to impose – restitution in light of the facts of the case.
The judge’s determination concerned events that went back to a rainy day in August 2016, in an incident that began when Logan Castleberry of Geary lost control of his vehicle just west of Frisco Road on Interstate 40 during a rainstorm.
According to an affidavit completed by Oklahoma Highway Patrol traffic homicide investigator James Lowe and filed with the court, three people – El Reno resident Dexter Pierce, 22-year-old Kaylee Hamilton and David Vallerand, 43, stopped to help Castleberry; about 10 minutes after the initial accident, Nguyen traveled off the highway and allegedly hit all of four while driving his 2015 white Lexus SUV.
Hamilton and Vallerand were killed, while Castleberry and Pierce were injured, prosecutors said. Lowe stated in his affidavit Nguyen was allegedly driving about 74-75 mph at the time his vehicle struck the four individuals, something the OHP investigator described as a speed “greater than reasonable and proper in the rain.”
The speed limit along that stretch of I-40 is 70 mph, something applicable under “optimal conditions” – conditions not present at the time of the accident, Lowe stated.
Hamilton was studying to be an emergency room nurse; Vallerand was principal of Okarche Elementary School. Castleberry, Pierce and the families of Hamilton and Vallerand previously settled Oklahoma County District Court civil actions against they filed against Nguyen in connection with the August 2016 incident.
According to documents filed in those civil cases, Nguyen cited a “sudden medical emergency” as the reason he traveled off the interstate; the defense did not offer in court filings detailing any additional details explaining what that condition might be. The civil suits were settled for undisclosed sums in 2018.
The restitution portion of the case, for now, lies with the state’s high criminal appeals court. As of press time, Nguyen’s counsel filed pleadings advising of his client’s intent to appeal but not yet the actual appellant document itself.