4 years after crash that killed SF teen, no trial date set for defendant Jennie Zhu

Saturday, September 30, 2017 03:09PM
There is an old adage that says, "Justice delayed is justice denied." The ABC7 I-Team is investigating why a criminal case against a driver accused of killing a teenager has been repeatedly delayed and has languished in the courts for several years.


SAN FRANCISCO - There is an old adage that says, "Justice delayed is justice denied." The ABC7 I-Team is investigating why a criminal case against a driver accused of killing a teenager has been repeatedly delayed and has languished in the courts for several years.

More than four years ago, 16-year-old Kevin San was killed in a car crash. Jennie Zhu was arrested charged with manslaughter and reckless driving for causing the accident that killed Kevin.

But the case has been delayed several times and there's still no trial date set for the 58-year-old. Experts say it is unusual for a case like this involving the death of a young boy to take so long. Kevin's family told the I-Team they can't understand why it is taking so long to get justice.

Friends say Kevin San was a great guy. A student at Abraham Lincoln High School in San Francisco, he was a proud member of the ROTC Drum Corps. And he was a passionate and accomplished bicyclist.

A friend said, "He would always have a smile on his face. On a gloomy day, he would maybe just give a laugh."

On a Friday morning, just before 7 a.m. on Sept. 27, 2013, Kevin's mother was driving him and his sister to school. Her minivan was stopped at a light at Pine and Gough streets when the vehicle was struck from behind by a silver Mercedes SUV.

Witnesses described the collision as sounding like an explosion.

Police say the Mercedes SUV was going more than 70 miles per hour when it hit the minivan.

Kevin San was killed and his mother and sister were seriously injured. His mother was in a coma for a month and his sister had fractures and other injuries.

Zhu, the driver of the SUV, was arrested and charged with three felony counts. She was charged with one count of gross vehicular manslaughter and two counts of reckless driving causing serious injuries.

That was four years ago and the criminal case has languished in the courts.

Just last week, Zhu was in court for a preliminary hearing; one that was delayed at least three times.

Kevin's family met with the prosecutor outside the courtroom. His sister told the ABC7 I-Team his family can't understand why getting justice is taking so long.

ABC7 News Legal Analyst and former Assistant United States Attorney Gil Soffer said it is very unusual to see this kind of delay.

"There's an old saying in criminal law circles and that is delay is a friend of the defense and it is usually and almost always to the advantage of the defense because the prosecution bears the burden of proof," he said.

We examined the court file and found records that show there were routine delays required to give both sides time to gather evidence.

But we also found three motions for continuances that delayed the preliminary hearing for months. All three motions for continuances were filed by Zhu's defense attorney. Alfredo Vea Jr. asked for delays of 8 to 10 weeks three different times. All those motions for continuances were granted by the court.

Vea told the I-Team some delays were caused by his heavy case load. He said both sides were afforded an equal number of delays. Some delays are "by agreement" and in this one of his motions for a delay, Vea wrote that Prosecutor Rani Singh agreed to the delay. The prosecutor did not file any motions objecting to the other two motions filed by Zhu's lawyer seeking delays.

"At this point I can't make a comment as to that aspect because it's an ongoing case and we are now going to be set for trial," said Singh outside court last week.

The preliminary hearing ended last week and now Zhu is scheduled to appear at an arraignment in October when she will enter a plea.

"It's been a frustrating process how long this has all taken," said Steve Baughman, an attorney hired by the family of Kevin San.

He has filed a civil suit against Zhu on behalf of the family claiming she drove at a, "recklessly excessive rate of speed ignoring traffic signals and rules of the road."

It claims her, "willful and conscious disregard for the safety of others," caused Kevin's death and the injuries to his mother and sister.

Zhu's civil attorney denies all the claims in the civil complaint.

Baughman says the delays in the criminal case hampered the criminal case hampered the civil suit.

"We can't do discovery, we can't depose Ms. Zhu because she has a 5th Amendment right to remain silent. So we cannot take her deposition."

Two months ago the civil suit was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.

In the weeks after the accident, friends and family brought flowers, candle, cards and photographs to a memorial they set up to remember Kevin San. A spokesperson speaking for the family said, "Every day his family wakes up and wishes it was all just a nightmare and we can still hug and see Kevin's warm smile. None of what has happened makes any sense."

Zhu's defense attorney says she will plead non-guilty at her arraignment on Oct. 5.

If convicted on all counts, Zhu could face seven years in prison.

Written and produced by Mark LaMet
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