‘Unimaginable’ pain still grips a Kauai family after a double-fatal Christmas Eve crash

For the first time since a deadly 2020 crash, a Kauai family is opening up about their heartache and frustration.
Published: May. 23, 2023 at 5:39 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - For the first time since a deadly 2020 crash, a Kauai family is opening up about their heartache and frustration.

The driver accused was sentenced recently, but the family says it’s nowhere near what he deserves. They want their grief to serve as a wake up call to both drivers and the justice system.

Eugenia Villanueva, 49, was a mother of three and a beloved preschool teacher on Kauai.

“The bubbliest person you’ll probably ever meet. She was always nice and kind to everyone,” her daughter Jenny Anne Villanueva said.

Eugenia Villanueva was heading home to Hanamaulu on Christmas Eve with her family after seeing loved ones in Eleele. That’s when the vehicle she was in was hit by alleged drunk driver Sandon Igne.

Her eldest daughter Jessica Villanueva, who lives on Oahu, remembered the moment she got the call from her father.

“I answered and the first thing he said was, ‘Mom is dead. Mom is dead.’” she recalled. “I think it was more shock. I didn’t even burst out into tears or anything, I just felt shock.”

Also in the car was Eugenia Villanueva’s dad, 71-year-old Delfin Geronimo.

He was badly injured and spent the next nine months in the hospital after an arm amputation. He died months later in September 2021.

Eugenia Villanueva’s second daughter Jenny Anne Villanueva and her boyfriend Raiden Pagatpatan, who was behind the wheel, survived the crash with lasting physical and mental scars.

They say they haven’t yet been able to forgive the driver responsible, Sandon Igne, for what he did to their family.

“We had to say goodbye to them permanently. They’re not coming back from jail, they’re not coming back from whatever — they’re not coming back at all. So in my heart I want to forgive him, but I just can’t,” Jenny Anne Villanueva said.

Igne, now 33, faced two counts of negligent manslaughter and several other charges before a plea deal was struck. Under the deal, he pleaded no contest to two counts of negligent homicide, and other offenses.

Last week, he was sentenced to serve 10 years in prison with the possibility of parole. His license was also permanently revoked.

Records show he had 10 prior of traffic violations, including speeding and driving without a license. Prosecutors said more than two hours after the crash, his blood alcohol level was 0.13.

The Villanueva family says they felt their options were limited and they reluctantly accepted the plea deal.

“To us its a clear cut thing about what happened and what transpired. He was the one that drank, he chose to drink and he chose to drive while being intoxicated,” Pagatpatan said.

The family hopes their grief serves as a wake up call to criminal justice system as they seek harsher penalties for DUI — and repeat offenders.

DUI Attorney Richard Holcomb, who is not connected to the case, says plea deals are sometimes offered when there are potential technicalities with evidence in the case, and prosecutors want a clear path to a sentence.

In this incident, it’s unclear why a plea deal was offered. Hawaii News Now reached out to the prosecuting and defense attorneys in the case but did not receive a response.

“All three of us have to live a life sentence because of what he did. And he’s only in there for 10 years,” Jessica Villanueva added. “How much people are we going to lose until this is going to stop — until we can get stricter laws?”

She continued, “We shouldn’t be telling adults, ‘Oh, don’t drive drunk.’ It’s like common sense. It’s common sense not to drive drunk. And he did.”

Through it all, the Villanuevas say their grief and trauma is still with them, and will be for a long time.

“What we went through was a lot and we wouldn’t want to wish that on anybody in our community — even to his family, even to him,” Jenny Anne Villanueva said. “The pain that we felt and continue to feel is unimaginable.”