Robert Sherlin will never forget his 15th wedding anniversary.
On July 24, 1997, Sherlin's parents, Bob and Helene Sherlin, died as a result of one of the worst car wrecks in West Valley City's history. Three others also died in that crash.Sherlin's only consolation is that the men responsible for the massive loss, Alfred P. Katoa, 30, and Aisea Akauola, 25, will spend up to 10 years each in prison.
"My family is looking at this as a first step to closure," Sherlin said after Katoa and Akauola were sentenced Monday, almost a year after his parents died.
Third District Judge Stephen Henriod sentenced Katoa and Akauola to two consecutive zero-to-five-year terms each at the Utah State Prison after they pleaded guilty to two counts of automobile homicide, a third-degree felony.
Both men were originally charged with five counts of manslaughter, a second-degree felony, each count punishable by up to 15 years in prison. But prosecutors dropped the second-degree felonies in exchange for their pleas, which spared the victims' families from hearing graphic testimony about the deaths of their loved ones.
According to the charges, the two men were racing side by side - Katoa in a minivan and Akauola in a Jeep - at about 80 mph west on 3100 South near 4252 West when they brushed each other's vehicles, lost control and hit an eastbound car driven by Helene Sherlin and a parked semi with a 45-foot flatbed trailer.
Helene Sherlin, 62, Holladay, along with Sione Pilivi, 17, Seattle, and Selenito Sitani, 27, Provo, who were passengers in Katoa's minivan, died at the scene.
Robert Sherlin, 64, and Amanaki Moala, 29, Magna, both died later from injuries sustained during the crash. Several other passengers were injured.
Akauola's blood-alcohol level was 0.11 percent at the time of the accident, the charges state. Katoa had also been drinking, but his blood alcohol level was about .02, below the legal limit of 0.08 percent.
In addition, both men had been smoking marijuana, Henriod said.
"I know that `sorry' is not going to repay or bring lives back. I know that sorry is so inadequate," Katoa told the victims' family members who attended the sentencing. "If I could, I would replace their lives with my own."
Akauola also addressed the audience:
"I accept full responsibility for this I've done that caused this great tragedy. It's almost been a year and not a day goes by that I don't think about the victims."
Katoa's lawyer, Deborah Kreeck Mendez, asked Henriod to give her client a concurrent term, and to stay the sentence until the birth of his child, which is due Aug. 13.
But Henriod ordered the consecutive sentences to begin immediately, saying that despite the defendants' "sincere remorse," they had "caused indescribable damage" and demonstrated "almost absolute disregard for the lives and safety of other people."
Both Katoa and Akauola still face civil litigation by the victims' families, who seek recoupment for material loss.