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Motorist who didn't stop after hitting child gets probation, credit for time served

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A 19-year-old motorist who failed to stop after hitting a 4-year-boy in South Encanto last summer was sentenced Wednesday to probation and given credit for jail time already served, angering the child's mother.

Samuel Metu pleaded guilty last week to a misdemeanor charge of hit-and-run causing death.

If Metu successfully completes 18 months of his three-year probation, he can request that probation be terminated, said San Diego Superior Court Judge Charles Gill.

Metu could have faced four years in prison had he been convicted of a felony.

Deputy District Attorney Derek Grilz said the accident happened around noon last July 9 when the youngster darted into the street in front of the defendant's vehicle.

"The accident was determined to be the fault of 4-year-old Jameson Darapheth. He caused the accident in which he was killed," the prosecutor said outside court.

"The defendant initially fled the scene, but after all the investigation was finished, we learned that the defendant actually returned to the scene of the crime 12 minutes later," Grilz said. "That, combined with the defendant's lack of criminal record and his young age, we feel justifies this fair resolution to the case."

The victim's mother, Khemphone Xaypanya, disagreed. A letter she wrote to the court, asking for harsher punishment for Metu, was read to the judge by a member of the district attorney's office.

"To me, this is not justice," she wrote. "Hit-and-run is a coward's act to me. Even a dog deserves more. I can still hear him (the victim) calling me mommy."

Metu's attorney, Jeremiah Sullivan, called the child's death a "tragic accident."

"Words can't express the sorrow Mr. Metu feels," the lawyer said.

According to Sullivan, the accident happened when the victim darted into traffic as Metu's attention was drawn to the victim's older brother, who was walking a dog on the other side of Madrone Avenue.

Metu left the scene to get gasoline for his car, but returned less than a half-hour later when he realized he had hit something, his attorney said.

The judge who presided over the young man's preliminary hearing last August said Metu had no intent to harm the victim.

The child's 12-year-old brother said Jameson tried to cross the street even though the older boy was yelling at him to stay put in front of his own home, said San Diego police Officer Christopher Velovich.

The 12-year-old said his little brother let one car pass, then darted into traffic and was hit by Metu's car, the officer testified.

Catherine Metu, who was driving in front of her son so she could pay to fill up his car with gas at a local station, told the officer that he was acting "oddly" when he arrived at the gas station.

"She said her son told her he thought he hit something, but he wasn't sure what he hit," Velovich testified.

Detective Ronald Lemaster testified that Metu told him that he was looking at the 12-year-old boy and his dog "when he felt and heard a bump" and kept driving.

After leaving the gas station, Metu said he drove around for awhile to make sure his car was OK, the detective testified.

Traffic Officer George Maglaras testified that it didn't appear that Metu was speeding, nor were there any signs that he applied the brakes.

The victim -- who died of blunt force head injuries -- was apparently dragged about 46 feet, the officer said.

At the time of the accident, Metu was a biology major and track athlete at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, Sullivan said.

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