Tongan community mixed on crash trial

Recollections of sadness and loss may return this week among local Tongans as the trial gets under way for Edith Delgado, the 19-year-old Redwood City woman accused of driving recklessly in a Menlo Park crash that killed three people, including two members of the Tongan royal family.

Merilyn Tonga, coordinator of San Mateo-based Tongan Interfaith Council, said the trial may stir up emotions, but added that most local Tongans have tried to move past the tragedy.

“It’s kind of calmed down since then,” she said. “The Tongan community is small here in the Bay Area. We were very close before it happened, but it brought us all closer together. We weren’t angry at her.”

Prosecutors said that on July 5, 2006, Delgado was switching lanes “dangerously” in her white Ford Mustang northbound on U.S. Highway 101 in Menlo Park, allegedly driving in excess of 85 mph before she clipped an SUV carrying the Tongan royalty as she tried to pass. The SUV rolled several times, killing all three passengers.

Delgado faces up to eight years in prison for the deaths of Prince Tu’ipelehake, 56, Princess Kaimana, 46, and their driver, Vinisia Hefa, 36, an East Palo Alto resident.

Eleni Aho, a San Francisco resident who worked in Tonga for 30 years, said there are mixed opinions of the trial.

“It was tragic; it was sad; it was a great loss,” she said. “But there is still a lot of shock and some feel [Delgado] should be punished.”

Delgado pleaded not guilty to three felony counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and is in custody on $1 million bail. She appeared in court Tuesday during jury selection, which is expected to last two days. Delgado’s attorney, Randy Moore, maintains her innocence. Opening arguments may begin as early as Friday, Deputy District Attorney Aaron Fitzgerald said.

bfoley@examiner.com

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