WILKES-BARRE – Jennifer Duong says her life will never be the same.
The 19-year-old must have her mother help her with everyday activities, and the once vibrant and accomplished young woman is now blind and unable to speak.
Duong suffered serious injuries after a January 2008 crash involving Hai Truong Vu, who was sentenced Friday to 18 to 36 months in prison.
It’s one of the worst DUI cases Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. said he has ever seen.
“This was the first time in my 10 years on the bench I didn’t know how to give someone a (proper) punishment,” Olszewski said.
“This case and what happened to (Duong and Vu) is something that should be published to every single high school student in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Olszewski said.
“…Everybody thinks it’s no big deal (to drink and drive). And no big deal of drinking underage resulted in this young lady suffering immeasurable, innumerable, permanent injuries,” the judge said.
Olszewski said he hopes the message of the consequences of drinking and driving serves as a warning to high school students for the upcoming prom season in the Wyoming Valley. “This is the epitome of a tragedy,” Olszewski said.
Duong was present in court Friday and brought a victim impact statement that was read by Assistant District Attorney Allyson Kacmarski.
Duong said in her letter that she was nearing the end of her senior year at Holy Redeemer High School when she “became a victim of Hai Vu’s reckless and irresponsible actions on Jan. 31, 2008.”
Duong had plans of graduating and attending Bloomsburg University, but instead, she was in a coma for six weeks and placed on a ventilator to keep her alive.
“Life after my accident is dramatically different,” said Duong, who needs assistance walking, and attends physical, speech and occupational therapy,
She also is unable to speak and is blind and is suffering from depression.
Duong’s father, Song, and a friend spoke Friday, stating that Duong has come far from a prognosis that she wouldn’t live.
Vu’s attorney, Ed Olexa, said Vu is very remorseful and that he wants to put the event in the past.
“He wanted to enter a guilty plea because he wants to get this behind him, come clean, and admit to what he did here,” Olexa said. “In my opinion, he’s a good person who made a terrible, horrific judgment in this particular situation.”
A friend of Vu, Terrence McCabe, and Vu’s stepfather, Matthew Rader, spoke on Vu’s behalf Friday, stating that Vu is a very different person and had been greatly affected by the accident. Vu, 21, Forty Fort, pleaded guilty in February to aggravated assault by vehicle while driving under the influence, driving under the influence, reckless endangerment, minors prohibited from operating a vehicle while driving under the influence and speeding.
Kingston police said Vu, then 20 years old, was driving an Acura Integra at a high rate of speed when he crashed into a utility pole at Market Street and North Loveland Avenue on Jan. 31, 2008, according to the criminal complaint.
Duong, who was 17 years old at the time and a passenger in his vehicle, suffered serious injuries in the crash.
Vu had a blood-alcohol level of 0.072 percent, police said. A person under the age of 21 is considered intoxicated at a .02 blood-alcohol level. “The next time someone thinks they are having a bad day or the next time somebody starts to feel sorry for yourself, think about what this young lady is going through because of underage drinking, drinking and driving and driving under the influence of alcohol,” Olszewski said.