Teen ordered back to jail for Tongan royals' deaths

Tears streamed down the face of 19-year-old Edith Delgado after she was ordered to serve additional jail time for causing a car crash that killed three people, including two members of the Tongan royal family.

Delgado, of Redwood City, is free on $40,000 bail but will surrender to the women's jail in Redwood City Sept. 1. With credit for time already served, however, she will likely only have to spend four to five months in jail, according to Deputy District Attorney Aaron Fitzgerald.

Though originally charged with three counts of felony vehicular manslaughter, a jury in June found Delgado guilty only of a misdemeanor for the July 5, 2006, nighttime crash that occurred when Delgado's white Mustang changed lanes on U.S. Highway 101 in Menlo Park and sideswiped a Ford Explorer carrying Tonga's Prince Tu'ipelehake, 54; Princess Kaimana Tu'ipelehake, 45; and their driver, Vinisia Hefa, 36.

All three were killed when the Explorer lost control and flipped on the highway.

Judge John Runde this morning agreed with Fitzgerald's request that Delgado be sentenced consecutively for each of the three victims, but gave her substantial credits for jail time already served.

Runde noted a probation officer's report that Delgado has expressed remorse “sincerely,” and that the crash, though it caused “very serious harm,” was due to “bad judgment” by a young woman while no previous criminal history.

“I believe (the decision) was reasonable given the fact that we had three victims in this case,” Fitzgerald said after the verdict. “I was pleased with the decision and felt it entirely appropriate given the circumstances.”

“My heart goes out to the family members who are the true victims in this case,” Fitzgerald added. “I'm glad the victims' families will have at least a small amount of closure.”

Tearful relatives of the Tongan royal family also spoke during the sentencing hearing, describing the impact on their family and the entire Tongan community.

“She loved her people, she loved her family,” Amelia Tupou Tonga spoke of Princess Tu'ipelehake, her first cousin. “Still our family suffers, our country suffers … but we are a forgiving people, and all we want today is justice.”

A weeping Delgado agreed to surrender at the women's jail in Redwood City on Sept. 1.

Delgado was also ordered to pay restitution to the families of the victims, and according to defense attorney Randy Moore, her drivers license has been revoked by the Department of Motor Vehicles for three years.

“I don't know when that time will come when she will want to drive again,” Moore said.

Outside the courtroom, Moore said he respected Runde's decision but was not pleased that his young client would be returned to jail.

“It doesn't serve anybody's interest at all that she has to go back there,” Moore said.

Delgado, who was uninjured in the crash, pulled over to the side of the highway after the crash and was later arrested and served about 11 months in county jail.

Prosecutors claimed Delgado had been speeding in excess of 80 mph and was dangerously weaving in and out of traffic as she raced another vehicle, thought to have been a black Cadillac Escalade, before the crash.

Moore had argued that Delgado used poor judgment in her lane change, but was not grossly negligent and had not been racing.

Though eyewitnesses to the crash testified during the nearly three-week trial that they had seen the Mustang speed past them, changing lanes quickly as it appeared to be racing another vehicle, jurors were not convinced that Delgado had been grossly negligent.

That the Escalade and its driver were never found also played into the jury's decision that the evidence of racing was not compelling enough.

— Examiner staff writer Brian Foley and Bay City News contributed to this report

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