SAN DIEGO (CNS) - An 18-year-old motorist accused of killing a pedestrian on Interstate 8 in the Ocean Beach area, then taking off, pleaded not guilty to a charge of felony hit-and-run causing death.
Nikolette Kristina Gallo -- who is free on $50,000 bail -- is charged in the death of 23-year-old Sho Funai in the early morning hours of March 11. Gallo faces anywhere between probation and four years in prison if convicted, according to prosecutor Rebecca Zipp.
Gallo agreed to wear a device that indicates when a person has consumed alcohol, even though her attorney said it wasn't clear if the defendant drank the night of the accident.
"She may or may not have been drinking," defense attorney A. King Aminpour said outside court. "There may have been an exercise in poor judgment, possibly. The charge against her is a hit-and-run, and that is all. There are no allegations of drug abuse, or alcohol abuse of any kind."
A passer-by found the victim's body alongside the freeway, just east of Nimitz Boulevard, according to California Highway Patrol Officer Art Athans.
It was unclear why Funai, a former Rancho Palos Verdes resident reported to have been a UC San Diego engineering graduate student, ventured onto the shoulder of the interstate on foot.
Gallo told investigators she had just dropped off a friend in the beach area and was on her way home when she hit what she thought was a discarded sofa alongside the eastbound side of the freeway, Athans said. The next morning, she saw news coverage of the pedestrian fatality and told her father she feared she may have been the motorist involved, he said.
They contacted an attorney, who got in touch with the Highway Patrol and said investigating officers could meet with his clients at the Gallo home. There, they got a statement from the teenager, who allegedly admitted to drinking prior to the accident, and they inspected her 2007 Toyota Camry, which had significant front-end damage, according to Athans.
Gallo, of Rancho Penasquitos, was taken into custody at her home about noon on March 11, nearly eight hours after the victim's body was discovered.
Gallo was working two jobs and going to Mesa College at the time of the accident, according to Aminpour.
She will be back in court April 25 for a readiness conference and May 16 for a preliminary hearing.
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