Justin Nappi stood up in court during a preliminary hearing Wednesday and changed his plea to no contest in the drunken-driving death of a 10-year-old boy.
Nappi faces a maximum of 19 years and eight months in prison for gross vehicular manslaughter, driving under the influence causing injury and driving with a measurable blood-alcohol level causing injury. All three are felonies and carry enhancements of injuries to other passengers.
Jayden Thomas was killed Nov. 3, 2012, on his way home from a Los Banos Wildcats peewee football game in Manteca. The Volta Elementary School fifth-grader and his family were riding in a 1992 BMW when it was struck on its passenger side by a 1991 Chevrolet pickup. Police say Nappi ran a stop sign at Place Road and East B Street.
Nappi, who was 20 at the time of the crash, had pleaded not guilty on Nov. 7, 2012.
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Maria Thomas, Jayden’s mother, was not comforted by Nappi changing his plea this week. Thomas said she would have preferred for Nappi to enter a guilty plea, as opposed to no contest. “It’s kind of not really taking responsibility,” she said.
Viola Inguanzo, Jayden’s grandmother, said the family wants Nappi to realize the magnitude of what he’s done and the perils of drunken driving. “The thing that we want is to make sure this does not happen to another family,” Inguanzo said.
Nappi’s attorney, Jeffrey Tennenbaum, said the decision to change pleas had been discussed for a while. “This was not something spur of the moment,” Tennenbaum said. “This took time for him to discuss it with the family, me to discuss it with him and me talking with the family.”
Tennebaum said Nappi is “devastated” about Jayden’s death and at the sentencing he will express remorse to the victim’s family. Tenenbaum said his client will also try to show the judge the good things he’s done during his life. “He’s going to address the court and tell what type of person he is,” Tennenbaum said. “There’s a lot of work to be done between now and then to put together materials for the judge.”
Tennenbaum said he plans to provide Judge Harry Jacobs with impact statements from people talking about the positive influence Nappi has had on their lives.
Harold Nutt, Merced County chief deputy district attorney, said no one escapes unscathed in cases like Nappi’s. “These kinds of cases are horrifically difficult because they involve people who don’t have much of a record. It’s a terrible thing for them and their family, but it’s also a terrible thing for the destruction they inflict upon the other family,” Nutt said.
Nutt said the Merced County Probation Department will provide Jacobs with a sentencing recommendation and help figure out a restitution amount.
Thomas said she’s hoping Nappi gets the stiffest sentence possible.
“I’m hoping for the max. If he gets a low amount, we are not going to be satisfied,” Thomas said. “(But) obviously no amount of time is going to replace our son or bring him back.”