Crime

Teen driver who killed bicyclist while reaching for phone gets jail time

A Paso Robles man who was 18 years old when his GMC Yukon struck and killed a bicyclist, severely injuring her companion, as he reached for his cellphone will spend 75 days in San Luis Obispo County Jail, a judge ruled Thursday.

Joseph Mondo, 20, pleaded no contest in March to two misdemeanor counts of vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence and reckless driving for the November 2014 death of Lee Hekyung Craig, 62, of Los Angeles.

On Thursday, Superior Court Judge Donald Umhofer sentenced Mondo to 30 days in San Luis Obispo County Jail, plus 45 days to be served consecutively for violating his probation. He will also have to perform 50 hours of community service and pay a yet-to-be-determined amount of restitution.

Craig and her companion, Lawrence Chong, 59, of Seal Beach, were bicycling west on Nacimiento Lake Drive east of Adelaida Road on Nov. 28, 2014, when Mondo struck the pair. Craig was pronounced dead at the scene and Chong suffered major injuries.

According to a San Luis Obispo County Probation Department report, Mondo was returning home after stopping at a Jack-in-the-Box in Paso Robles when his phone slid from his lap into the center console. He said he took his eyes off the road to retrieve the phone, and when he looked up, saw a vehicle stopped ahead to make a left-hand turn.

Mondo veered onto the right shoulder and barely missed the vehicle, the report reads, before returning to the lane and again trying to retrieve his phone. Mondo told investigators he didn’t know how long his eyes were off the road when he felt an impact to the front of the SUV.

If I could change places, I would. It has changed my life. Someone’s life was lost. I do not need to argue my innocence. I am guilty.

Joseph Mondo in a March 24 interview with a probation officer

He turned around at Adelaida Road, returned to the scene and, realizing he had hit the bicyclists, flagged down a passing car to call 911, as his phone turned out to be dead.

The CHP estimated Mondo was traveling about 60 mph in a 55 mph zone. The impact threw Craig 126 feet and Chong about 84 feet, according to the report. Mondo was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time.

Mondo was on probation for a misdemeanor exhibition of speed conviction from a month earlier, and had racked up several infractions for speeding and other traffic-related offenses.

When he was interviewed by a probation officer following his no-contest pleas, Mondo reportedly said: “What happened has happened. If I could change places, I would. It has changed my life. Someone’s life was lost. I do not need to argue my innocence. I am guilty. I want to move on with my life. I will deal with the repercussions as they come.”

Craig’s brother reportedly told the probation department that he did not want Mondo to serve a lengthy custody sentence, but asked for 200 to 300 hours of community service.

All he had to do was pull over after he nearly rear-ended a car while reaching for his phone. If he had done so my life would still be good and I would still have Lee. Instead my life is now a mess.

Surviving victim, Lawrence Chong

Chong, a Newport Beach vitreoretinal surgeon, has undergone several surgeries and has seen his work volume drop by 50 percent because of his injuries, the probation department said. Chong reportedly told a probation officer that his life is forever changed.

“What hurts the most is that I lost (Craig) because of the negligence on the part of someone else,” Chong said, according to the report. “All he had to do was pull over after he nearly rear-ended a car while reaching for his phone. If he had done so, my life would still be good and I would still have Lee. Instead my life is now a mess.”

On Thursday, Umhofer said it was “heartbreaking” to see what Chong is going through. However, he said he was taking Mondo’s age into consideration.

“My experience with teenage drivers is they all have tickets or an accident by the time they reach 18. Mr. Mondo had his share,” Umhofer said. “Yes, he should have been aware of all those things, but sometimes young people don’t always get the message.”

Mondo is scheduled to report to jail on July 15.

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