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Chau pleads no contest

The San Jose man who involuntarily killed a Fresno boy and caused injuries to a teenage girl during a jet ski accident at Bass Lake plead no contest, the same as guilty, to dual misdemeanors last week in the Sierra Division of Madera County Superior Court.

Phat Chau, 59 of San Jose, was sentenced Oct. 29 to 120 days in jail and three years probation for the wreck on June 27, where he drove a jet ski into an inner tube ridden by David Flores, 13, and his aunt Julissa Valenzuela, 16, both of Fresno.

Flores was killed and Valenzuela airlifted to Community Regional Medical Center with serious head injuries. She was later released to make a full recovery.

Chau, who has no criminal history, may be allowed to serve time on house arrest under work furloughs after his case is reviewed by Madera County’s Sheriff’s Department and Department of Corrections.

No drugs or alcohol were involved in the crash.

District Attorney David Linn said he felt the sentence, whether in jail or spent at home, was too lenient thanks to changes in state law.

“As I told the court at the beginning of this case and today,” Linn said, “the laws of the state of California, as a result of (prison) realignment in Assembly Bill 109 and Proposition 47, unfortunately make it so we cannot file felonies in an accident of this type.”

Linn said if Chau caused the wreck in a car, a felony charge would likely be filed. But because the accident happened on a waterborn vehicle, punishments are treated differently under criminal law.

“The family wasn’t upset about the punishment,” Linn added of Flores and Valenzuela’s family members in court. “They obviously wanted more, but they wanted closure to it all. It was really devastating for them.”

Chau’s attorney Michael Idiart said wanting tougher punishment was a matter of perspective, as Chau was a law-abiding person who always supported his family but made a tragic mistake.

“I’m sure if my child were killed, depending on my point of view, some people feel greater punishment is deserved, some people are more forgiving,” Idiart said. “Nothing is going to change that, nothing is going to get their child back, I understand that. I understand both points of view.”

Chau could begin serving his sentence by the end of the year, depending on when reports are reviewed for his eligibility to work furloughs and house arrest. He is mandated to begin his sentence by Jan. 5 of next year, whether behind bars or at home.

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