Tuesday, 10 March 1998

Drunken driver jailed 30 days, but impact won't fade so quickly

By Jon Burstein
The Arizona Daily Star

The truck that plowed through John Kellerman's bedroom last Memorial Day weekend marked the second time that alcohol's effects had crashed into his life.

The 20-year-old, born with fetal alcohol syndrome, wasn't in his room when the Toyota truck smashed his bed's headboard into a pile of splinters and flung his mattress against a wall.

But he was in a Pima County courtroom yesterday to watch the driver who careened into his family's eastside home receive a 30-day jail sentence.

``He already had been affected by alcohol, and now he's been affected again,'' said Teresa Kellerman, John's adopted mother, after Thinh Quang Bui was sentenced.

Bui, 33, had a blood-alcohol content more than twice the legal driving limit when his truck crashed into John Kellerman's room about midnight May 25, court records show.

Bui pleaded guilty in January to criminal damage and driving under the influence.

In addition to sentencing him to jail, Superior Court Judge Deborah Bernini put him on probation for five years and ordered him to go through an intensive alcohol treatment program.

Teresa Kellerman, coordinator of the FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) Community Resource Center, said her son fortunately was visiting relatives the night of the crash.

John Kellerman suffers from damage to his central nervous system caused by his mother's drinking during pregnancy. Fetal alcohol syndrome is the leading cause of mental retardation in the United States.

His mother said she remembers the night of the crash vividly. She was turning off the lights in her living room when she saw the truck jump out of the intersection by the house.

``I watched out my window as Mr. Bui crashed his truck into my house,'' she wrote in a letter to Bernini. ``As I ran for the phone to dial 911, I saw dust or smoke billowing up into the hallway. I was terrified, in shock, not knowing if the car was going to blow up or if the house was going to fall down.''

Tucson police arrived to find Bui slumped over the passenger's side of the truck with minor injuries, according to court documents. He had a blood-alcohol level of 0.203. The legal driving limit is 0.10.

Bui told a probation officer that he had four beers and a shot of liquor before he blacked out from fatigue, according to court records.

His lawyer, Varn Chandola, said yesterday that Bui sincerely regrets what happened and never intended that anyone would get hurt.

Teresa Kellerman said her son knew when he looked at his room the following day that he would have been killed if he had been in his bed.

``When my son came home, he clenched his fist and said, `I'm so angry. I never want to drink because I don't want to be responsible for something like this,' '' Teresa Kellerman said.

She said the crash traumatized her son, destroying ``the one place he used to go to feel safe and comfortable.'' He has since changed bedrooms.

The crash caused about $6,000 damage to the house, Teresa Kellerman said.

``We don't have alcohol in our house, but Mr. Bui brought his alcohol into our house without our permission,'' she said.

Her son said yesterday that he always will remember what could have happened that night.

``Every Memorial Day, I'll look back at it,'' John Kellerman said.

Kellerman Family Home Page
FAS Community Resource Center