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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, January 3, 2010

Kapaa man gets 20-year sentence in drive-by shooting

By Paul C. Curtis
The Garden Island

LIHU‘E, Kauai — Taekyu U, 27, of Kapa‘a, will spend at least the next five years in prison after being sentenced Thursday on weapons and reckless endangering charges.
U was originally charged with first-degree attempted murder in connection with what prosecutors called “a drive-by shooting in Kapa‘a,” at the Waipouli Town Center McDonald’s restaurant in June 2008, but pleaded guilty in August 2009 to four lesser charges.

After being given a 20-year sentence Thursday by 5th Circuit Judge Randal Valenciano for the crimes of reckless endangering, using a firearm in commission of a felony, and having a firearm and ammunition in places illegal to keep such items, he was immediately taken into custody to begin serving his prison term.

U said in August he did fire the two shots last year that narrowly missed patrons outside the restaurant, and on Thursday he apologized for his actions and said he acted alone and without the knowledge of his nephew, co-defendant Brock-Alan Reyes.

County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney John Murphy said U’s story that someone threw a paper bag into his car, and the gun went off when he grabbed the pistol, constitutes “a miracle of biblical proportions.”

If the shooting was accidental, why then did U plead guilty to a Class A felony in the case? Murphy asked.

“This was a drive-by shooting. In short, this was a drive-by shooting in Kapa‘a,” and U must be sentenced accordingly, said Murphy.

Murphy said U and Reyes went looking for someone for some reason, and U told Reyes, who was driving, to follow a certain vehicle.

There was a lot of sniffling in the gallery of around 30 people, nearly all U and Reyes family and friends, when U addressed the court and asked for leniency.

First, he apologized to the court, victims, family and his support systems both in the form of legal representation through Honolulu attorney Michael Green and doctors who provided therapy in preparing a pre-sentencing report and other assistance.

“I found forgiveness from them,” he said of the victims and his family and friends. U said he has been clean and sober nearly four months, and he is in a place of “the most clarity and peace ever.”

He said he realizes that his drug and alcohol use led him to neglect his family and friends, and that the anger, pain and separation he experienced earlier are the worst types of feelings one can experience.

“I’m very sorry for what I’ve done. It’s my fault, I’ve done it myself, on my own, without the knowledge of my nephew.” There will be “no further mistakes or wrongful conduct,” U told Valenciano.

Green said U Thursday is a very different man than the one he met to represent a year ago, something Valenciano seemed to notice as well.

U’s path when Green met him was “a little frightening” — a dangerous mix of drugs, alcohol and prescription drug use by a man having lost to death both his mother and father.

“It’s fortunate that no one was injured.” There was never intent to hurt anyone, Green said of the incident. “Thank God no one was injured, no one was killed.”

Green said there were “suggestions” that U would enter a drug-treatment program, and Green asked Valenciano if U did get into a drug-treatment program, Valenciano let him finish the program before incarcerating him.

Valenciano said U’s is one of the cases he hadn’t been able to leave in the courthouse.

“The hardest thing is to not take cases home,” , the judge said, adding he read U’s pre-sentencing investigation three times. “I was having difficulty with the version” of events as U presented it.

“There was a credibility problem, and I struggled with that. I struggle also that the matter is out of my hands,” the judge said of the mandatory sentencing guidelines associated with the four charges to which U pleaded guilty.

Valenciano had the option of making the total 36 years of prison terms 72 years or longer, either by doubling the amount of time because of the multiple-felony conviction, or by running each crime’s punishment consecutively instead of concurrently.

“Mr. U, good luck. Good luck, Mr. U,” Valenciano said.

The Reyes case was called immediately after U’s, wherein Valenciano, Murphy and Dan Hempey, Reyes’ attorney, agreed to continue discussions regarding Hempey’s two motions to dismiss attempted murder and weapons charges against Reyes.

Valenciano set the Reyes case for status or scheduling of hearings on Jan. 12.