Driver in fatal crash hears father’s testimony

By James R. Riffel

City News Service

A 17-year-old former Torrey Pines High School student who admitted driving drunk when his car went out of control and crashed in Rancho Santa Fe, killing one teenager and seriously injuring another, was sentenced Thursday to probation and up to 547 days in a juvenile camp.

Judge George “Woody” Clarke ordered the boy to serve a minimum of 283 days at Camp Barrett, where he is expected to receive treatment for alcohol abuse.

The teen pleaded guilty last month to gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated in connection with the Oct. 4 crash that killed 17-year-old Alex Capozza and seriously injured Jamie Arnold.

Two other 17-year-old passengers escaped serious injury.

“But for the grace of God it could have been five people killed in that car,” the judge said during an emotional hearing in Juvenile Court.

A California Highway Patrol report said a combination of alcohol and speed contributed to the accident.

Deputy District Attorney Aimee McLeod said the defendant had to have consumed eight or nine alcoholic beverages while playing beer pong at a party, at which he arrived around 10 p.m. and left on a food run around 1:15 a.m. the day of the crash. The collision happened about a half-hour later on a winding stretch of La Granada near the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club.

Accident investigators determined the car was traveling 79 mph when it crossed a double-yellow line, went out of control and off the roadway, plowed through a fence and rolled over, McLeod said.

The young defendant sniffled several times during the hearing and said he was sorry for what he had done.

“I feel terrible,” he said. “I never expect to receive forgiveness for what I’ve done.”

The boy has been described as an exceptional student and all-league lacrosse player. However, he told authorities he drank and smoked marijuana a couple of times each month, and his parents had been testing him for drug use.

Michael Capozza, Alex’s father, told the judge there will be no holidays for his family this year because there is nothing to celebrate.

“Every waking moment for us is a reminder of his absence, of his senseless loss,” Capozza said. “Sleep is no easier - every time I close my eyes, I imagine Alex drawing the last (difficult) breaths into his broken and dying body at the crash site. We hate being in our own home - a place once filled with love and joy has been reduced to a graveyard of memories.”

He said a number of friends of the boys told him the defendant regularly drove while impaired.

The defendant’s father, Danen Butler, told reporters after the hearing that his son planned to talk to youth at schools and churches about the crash and the dangers of drunken driving, after he’s released.

“He’s been devastated by all this,’' Butler said.

Butler, who noted his son’s crash was one of a series of recent fatal crashes involving drunken teen drivers in the North County, said the message was especially important during the holidays.

“I just hope people think before they drink and drive,” Butler said.

Defense attorney Robert Grimes unsuccessfully argued that confinement at home was a more appropriate punishment for his client, who would still receive the treatment he needs, rather than being crowded into facility with hardened criminals.

Senior Probation Officer Leticia Bombardier, however, said the detention will enforce sobriety and provide access to treatment programs.

The boy has been at Juvenile Hall since the morning of the accident.