LIHUE — A drunk driver who killed a young Kapaa woman in a high-speed car crash was sentenced Thursday to life in prison for manslaughter.
A jury found former Washington resident Cody Safadago, 48, guilty on eight counts he faced after causing the April 2017 accident that took the life of Kayla Huddy-Lemn, a 19 year-old girl on her way home from work.
Members of Huddy-Lemn’s family crowded the back of Judge Randal Valenciano’s Fifth Circuit Courtroom Thursday morning, where they waited an hour and a half for the judge to work his way through that the normal daily docket. Safadago’s case was called around 9:30 a.m., and proceedings were brief.
“I guess everybody makes mistakes,” Luella Lemn said on behalf of her granddaughter in a statement to Valenciano prior to sentencing, “but when I came to every day of the trial, I did not see any remorse on Mr. Safadago’s face.”
Lemn asked the judge to give Safadago life in jail, not because the sentence would help ease her family’s pain, but to make sure “that he will not be given the opportunity to take somebody else’s life.”
Huddy-Lemn’s aunt, ZoeAnn McCullen, also requested the maximum penalty.
“We have all been sentenced already,” she said, her voice shaking, “with the hurt that we carry for the rest of our lives.”
According to evidence presented at his trial in August, Safadago stole a bottle of vodka from the Big Save supermarket in Kapa‘a, got drunk, walked to a nearby house, stole a truck parked out front, and drove down the highway at speeds approaching 90 miles an hour, swerving in and out of oncoming traffic, until he struck Huddy-Lemn’s car head-on.
Police body cam footage showed a bruised, bloody and highly intoxicated Safadago stumbling around near the wrecked pickup minutes after the accident. A local restaurant manager testified at trial that when he heard the crash and walked outside to investigate, Safadago wandered up, pestering him for a cigarette lighter, while Huddy-Lemn lay in her car a few hundred feet away.
Kauai County Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar requested consecutive prison sentences: life with the possibility of parole for manslaughter, 20 years for causing the accident, 10 years for auto theft, a year for resisting arrest, and an additional three months for the remaining lesser offenses.
Safadago spoke next, the first time he said anything out loud in court since his trial began in August.
“I did not steal that truck. I did not drive drunk down that highway,” Safadago told the judge, proclaiming his innocence and asking for “a fair trial” minutes before he was sentenced to a life of incarceration.
“I did not kill your daughter,” he said, turning to face the relatives of Huddy-Lemn, who filled the back two rows of benches in the courtroom.
Valenciano followed the prosecution’s recommendation almost exactly, handing down the maximum sentence for all eight counts.
Safadago’s jail terms will run concurrently, meaning the time he serves counts towards all crimes at the same time, except for the 10-years for car theft. Valenciano tacked that sentence on the end of the others, so Safadago will still face a decade in jail even if he successfully appeals the remaining charges.
Huddy-Lemn’s family gathered outside of the courthouse after the hearing and talked about putting an end to a process that has consumed much of their lives since April 27, 2017.
“The sentencing is what we wanted, but you know what, that’s not going to bring her back,” McCullen said. “Not going to be bringing her back, but we satisfied with that verdict.”
“I, for one, will never have closure,” Verna Huddy said. She lost her daughter in the 2017 crash, and her pain has grown no less intense since then.
“He has no remorse,” said Lori Wong, a cousin of Huddy-Lemn. “He’s trying to play the system. You know how many times he’s been in the system, that’s why.”
Safadago’s first criminal conviction in Hawaii was in 2012, when he pleaded no contest to theft — the original charge was for stealing a car — and got a year in jail. He violated probation shortly after his release and got resentenced to another 30 days.
But his criminal history dates back nearly 30 years and includes high-level offenses committed in multiple states and even other countries, according to court records and news articles compiled by Technology &Cybersecurity Law Group, a Washington, D.C firm in a report to the Federal Trade Commission.
“Safadago has persisted unremittingly in his criminal career,” the law group wrote in a report on Safadago, citing a domestic violence case in California from 1992, followed by “repeated drugs and weapons charges, abuse, felony theft, and other offenses” across the Pacific Northwest.
According to Kauai prosecutors, Safadago was convicted of three separate felony charges and six misdemeanors in Washington state and in California, he was found guilty of multiple crimes of various types, including convictions on drug-possession and theft-related charges.
He was caught fleeing parole in Central America and extradited back to the United States in 2014, according to an article published in Amandala, a widely circulated newspaper in Belize, which said immigration authorities listed human trafficking among Safadago’s prior convictions.
A year later, the law group’s report says he was arrested in Mexico for “drug possession in quantities indicating his intent to distribute.”
In 2015, while on probation for theft in Maui, Safadago was arrested for three separate incidents in California for stealing a car, possessing stolen property and violating a restraining order in place to prevent domestic violence, according to prosecutors.
Caleb Loehrer, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or email@example.com.