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Army soldier going to prison for hit-and-run DUI crash that left victim disabled

A gavel. (TNS/Released)

An Army soldier from Fresno was sentenced to five years in prison Thursday for driving drunk, striking a pedestrian and then fleeing the scene.

Kor Yeng Thao, who has been out on bail, was taken into custody after Judge Gary D. Hoff issued his punishment.

Hoff said that while Thao has served his country well and has no criminal history, his actions the night of April 15, 2019 do not outweigh the seriousness of his crime.

“He has done well and has taken some responsibility by entering a plea,” Hoff said “But this was also an individual who was irresponsible and selfish … and caused the damage he caused.”

Prosecutor Steven Ueltzen said the crash happened about 12:30 a.m. in the intersection of E. California and S. Cedar avenues. Police said Thao ran a stop sign and struck the victim, Jose Carlos Vasquez, as he was crossing the street. The impact threw Vasquez through a cyclone fence and into a field.

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Thao did not stay at the scene, give aid to Vazquez who was gravely injured, or call for help, Ueltzen said. He drove home.

Police found him three hours later after they followed a trail of car fluid from the crash site to Thao’s home. Ueltzen said Thao told police the only thing he hit on his way home was a curb.

Drivers who stopped to look at the crash scene called 911 after they heard moaning coming from a field.

Vasquez was taken to a hospital where he remained in a coma for two months. He is now permanently disabled.

“In that moment when he had the opportunity to display some responsibility, some type of character or regard for human life, he completely failed,” Ueltzen said. “He left Mr. Vasquez to die.”

Thao’s public defender Griffin Estes tried to leverage some leniency from the judge, by talking about Thao’s service in the military and his need to remain employed so he can continue to pay restitution to Vasquez and his family.

Hoff denied probation and gave Thao a five year prison sentence.

Family members of Vasquez told the judge the brother they once knew and loved has changed forever.

“He loved to dance and he loved to make me laugh,” said his sister Estefany Tinoco, as she began crying. “And now he can’t get up or do anything for himself. It hurts me.”

Tinoco said she knows the right thing to do is to forgive Thao, but she admitted its hard.

“I do believe he is a good person, but we are here because of his actions,” she said. “He was irresponsible and selfish to get behind the wheel and drive. He didn’t care if he was going to hurt himself or someone else.”

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© 2020 The Fresno Bee