Los Osos teen faces 10 years in prison for hit-and-run that killed Cal Poly student

Gianna Brencola, 18, of Los Osos, listens during her arraignment in San Luis Obispo Superior Court alongside defense attorney Paul Phillips, on Nov. 2, 2017. She pleaded no contest to hit-and-run and manslaughter charges.
Gianna Brencola, 18, of Los Osos, listens during her arraignment in San Luis Obispo Superior Court alongside defense attorney Paul Phillips, on Nov. 2, 2017. She pleaded no contest to hit-and-run and manslaughter charges.

An intoxicated 17-year-old girl who struck and killed a bicyclist in San Luis Obispo and then fled the scene faces up to 10 years in state prison when she's sentenced Wednesday for vehicular manslaughter and hit-and-run resulting in death.

Gianna Catherine Brencola, now 18, pleaded no contest last month to the hit-and-run charge, as well as a felony charge of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated without gross negligence, which carries a sentencing enhancement for fleeing.

The Los Osos resident was accused of crashing her Mazda 3 into 22-year-old Kennedy Love, a San Diego native and third-year landscape architecture student at Cal Poly, as Love was riding his bicycle along Foothill Boulevard near Ferrini Road on Aug. 28, 2017.

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Kennedy Love (1).jpg
Kennedy Love, 22, killed in a hit-and-run in August 2017, smiles during a visit to see the superbloom on the Carrizo Plain in Spring 2017. Sasha Shebalin

Brencola was arrested early the next day after witnesses told San Luis Obispo police they saw somebody matching her description behind the wheel of a vehicle that struck a bicyclist.

Witnesses said the vehicle pulled into a nearby parking lot, where two women got out and examined the damage before getting back in the car and driving off.

The vehicle was discovered abandoned on Tassajara Drive near Luneta Drive and traced to a registered owner in Los Osos.

Brencola allegedly admitted to investigators that she was driving the vehicle that struck Love, and that she had been drinking alcohol earlier that night.

She initially faced two additional felony charges of DUI resulting in injury or death, and other enhancements that were dismissed as a condition of her plea agreement with prosecutors.

The District Attorney's Office said in November that the hit-and-run charge carried a minimum sentence of two years and a maximum of four years in state prison. The vehicular manslaughter charge, the office said, carried a potential sentence of anywhere from 16 months to four years in County Jail or state prison.

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But according to court records, Brencola entered an "open plea" to the vehicular manslaughter and hit-and-run charges on March 6. While most pre-trial plea agreements come with assurances from prosecutors that they will recommend a certain sentence to a judge, open pleas do not contain specific assurances from the DA and leave the sentence to the judge's discretion.

Under the terms of her plea, Superior Court Judge Craig van Rooyen could sentence Brencola to as little as formal probation and as much as 10 years in state prison at Brencola's sentencing hearing Wednesday.

According to a brief filed by Deputy District Attorney Chase Martin in February, Brencola was found by investigators at the home of a friend early the day after the crash. She agreed to a breathalyzer test, which revealed a blood alcohol content of 0.148 roughly five hours after the crash, the brief states.

Brencola reportedly told investigators that she had stopped drinking hours before the crash, and that she didn't know at first that she had hit a person. However, the DA's brief says that a witness told investigators the driver of the Mazda had gotten out of the car and said "I hit him! I hit him!" before driving off.

A ghost bike memorial was installed on Foothill Boulevard in San Luis Obispo in September 2017 as a tribute to Kennedy Love, a Cal Poly student who was riding his bicycle when he was struck and killed by a drunken driver. Lucas Clark

In his brief, Martin called Brencola "a good student who comes from a good family and who has a bright future" and said he "takes no pleasure in recommending a prison sentence for her."

"We consider her actions after the collision to be appalling and inhumane," Martin wrote. "Ms. Brencola knew she hit a human being in her vehicle immediately after the fact and knew that she may have killed him."

However, Brencola's attorney, Paul Phillips, argued in his proposed resolution statement March 1 that Brencola was still a juvenile at the time of the crash, and pointed to other recent San Luis Obispo County vehicular manslaughter cases that ended in sentences of no more than a few years in County Jail.

"Suffice it to say that Gianna’s choices on this fateful night were absolutely unlawful and produced horrific consequences, but they must also be seen as the predictable byproduct of an altered state that does not reflect the character or capacities of Gianna while sober," Phillips wrote.

Phillips noted that Brencola has remained in custody since her arrest and taken responsibility for her actions, including apologizing to Love's family.

Phillips did not immediately return a request for comment Monday.

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Matt Fountain 781-7909, @mattfountain1