3rd District Judge Stephen L. Henriod granted a two-week continuance in the case of two West Valley men who said they intend to plead guilty to lesser charges involving a car crash that killed five people.
Deborah Kreeck Mendez, attorney for Alfred Katoa, 30, asked for the continuance to get another attorney to explore several issues before entering any plea. Outside the courtroom, she said it would be inappropriate to discuss them now.The judge indicated it made sense to do the same for the other defendant, Aisea Akauoloa, 24, and set a new court date for May 4.
Both Katoa and Akauoloa have been charged with five counts of second-degree felony manslaughter in the July 24, 1997, wreck that happened while they apparently were drag racing after a rugby tournament where some players had been drinking beer.
Katoa and Akauoloa in March announced they would plead guilty to two lesser counts of third-degree felony automobile homicide. They could face 10 year prison terms.
Prosecutor Howard Lemcke raised no objections to the two-week delay to get more information. "There are some technical things that have to be taken care of and it's proper that they are taken care of," he said outside the courtroom.
Lemcke said manslaughter charges indicate reckless conduct and no influence of drugs or alcohol, while the auto homicide charges indicate reckless conduct and the presence of alcohol or drugs.
"We want to make sure that the plea bargain is valid and the paperwork is clean," Lemcke said. "These are deaths of people and it's no small matter."
The accident occurred after a Pioneer Day rugby competition. About 3 p.m. Katoa let in a minivan while Akauoloa drove a Jeep. Both vehicles were filled with rugby players
The vehicles turned west onto 3100 South at 4252 West in West Valley City and the drivers began racing one another, traveling at speeds around 80 mph, according to court documents.
The area is residential with one lane in each direction and a speed limit of 35 mph.
Court documents say the drivers lost control and smashed into a Toyota Camry driven by Helene R. Sherlin and a parked semitrailer truck.
Sherlin, 62, of Holladay, was killed instantly. Also killed were passengers in Katoa's minivan: Sione Pilivi, 17, of Seattle, and Selenito Sitani, 27, of Provo.
Sherlin's husband, Robert, 64, survived the accident but died later. Amanaki Moala, 29, of Magna, also survived the wreck but died later of injuries.
Others were injured to various extents. There were a total of 11 people involved in the three-vehicle accident.
Court documents show Akauoloa's blood alcohol level was 0.11 percent at the time of the accident, which is above Utah's legal limit of 0.08. Katoa had a blood alcohol level of 0.03.