Former Cuesta student Gianna Brencola cries as Kennedy Love’s mother describes her deceased son.
Photo by Alexander Bissell / Cuestonian Photo & Video Chief
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Exclusive: Details from the courtroom
By Rachel Barnes
The family of a promising 22-year-old man cried in a packed courtroom as they continued their fight for justice and journey of healing from the trauma of his sudden and untimely death.
Across the aisle, the family of an 18-year old girl sat in tears as they watched the judge sentence her to seven years in state prison for a series of bad decisions she made one night last fall that led to vehicular manslaughter.
The courtroom seemed to vibrate with pure emotion as the family of Kennedy Love told former Cuesta student Gianna Brencola how his death has affected them.
“You hit my son who was riding his bike, defenseless in the road,” Love’s mother, Dorthanna “Dee Dee” Love said in a victim-witness statement to the judge.
“You left him to die — bleeding to death alone,” the grieving mother told the defendant.
Brencola was the only juvenile to be arrested for felony DUI in the year 2017. On the night of Aug. 29, she allegedly struck Love as he was riding his bicycle, killing him only a short distance away from his home in San Luis Obispo.
Brencola left the scene and then abandoned her vehicle, officials said. Police found false IDs in the car, which they suspect were used to illegally purchase alcohol, according to a court document obtained by The Cuestonian.
Love’s sister and mother spoke of him through tears as they addressed the judge and Brencola.
The young defendant openly wept as well when Candise Wade, Love’s sister, spoke to her:
“What if you could have saved his life?” Wade asked Brencola. “What if calling the ambulance would have made a difference?”
Love’s family told Brencola they were in disbelief regarding how many opportunities she had to make other choices that fateful evening. They conveyed how many times she was given an option to chose not to drink and drive, according to the details contained in the court document provided to them by the prosecution.
“Ms. Brencola herself was reminded on the day she killed Mr. Love not to drive her car after having consumed alcohol; and yet she did so,” according to the court documents.
Another Cuesta student, a friend of Brencola’s, told police he had been at a social gathering with Brencola prior to the fatal collision and — because she seemed too intoxicated to drive — he repeatedly offered to give her a ride home, the court document stated.
Despite the evidence the Love family spoke of about, they said they understood — to some degree — why she was scared. Dee Dee Love offered, in her words, “forgiveness and understanding” to Brencola. They family was sure to mention that they didn’t think Brencola was “a monster”.
“We don’t believe you’re a bad person and that you don’t deserve love or a long happy life,” Love’s sister told Brencola. “Kennedy wouldn’t want you to spend the rest of your life in prison.”
Brencola faced a maximum of 10 years behind bars for the charges of vehicular manslaughter, felony hit-and-run and felony DUI. The judge decided on his sentence due to the seriousness of the case as well as the affect the case has had on Brencola.
In an exclusive Cuestonian interview after the hearing, Dee Dee Love expressed mixed feelings about the result of the sentencing.
“How do you get seven years for killing somebody?” she asked . “We know that the judge didn’t take this decision lightly and we’re going to be at peace with it.”
According to Dee Dee Love, they have been trying their best to cope with their situation through prayer and keeping themselves busy. But it isn’t easy, she noted.
“What I miss most is his presence, like the way he walked into a room,” she said.
Just three days before Brencola’s sentencing, Love’s family visited their son’s gravesite on what would have been his 23rd birthday.
“We had to go to his gravesite to be with him. It was so unfair,” the mother said in disbelief.
Brencola’s family sat behind the young girl and cried as the judge rejected the defense’ request of sentencing her to probation.
“She was a young woman with a serious alcohol problem, probation is not a just outcome,” Judge Craig van Rooyen said.
He instead sentenced her to the seven-year sentence the probation officer recommended and ordered her to pay nearly $12,000 in court fees.
Brencola was originally held in custody at Juvenile Hall. However, at the prosecution’s request, a judge ruled in October that Brencola should be tried as an adult due to the seriousness of the case. She was then transferred on Nov. 9 to County Jail where she has remained in custody.
In custody, Brencola has been attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and counseling every other week. She has also been in substance abuse classes twice a week, according to the probation report reviewed by The Cuestonian.
“She indicated she will never touch alcohol again and has learned how destructive it can be,” according to the report.
Prior to the incident, Brencola told probation officers that she drank one to two nights a week, and admitted to drinking and driving in the past, the report stated.
Numerous friends of Love’s from Cal Poly and community groups were also in the courtroom audience.
“It was the first time I had seen [Brencola],” said Love’s best friend and former roommate, Paul Gillis-Smith.
“You can’t help but put all your anger and negativity into this one person,” he said. “It was hard to just hear a number for the sentencing.”
Brencola’s defense lawyer, Paul Phillips, argued for a grant of probation for Brencola, stating that she had taken responsibility for her decisions and is actively trying to turn her life around.
However, the judge didn’t think this provided justice for Love’s family.
“I would have hoped for a grant of probation, but we accept the judges ruling,” Phillips said.
Prosecutor Chase Martin said that he believes the judge came to a fair conclusion given the circumstances. He agreed with the judge that a prison sentence was the most appropriate outcome in this case.
“It is my sincere hope that other people will learn from Brencola’s consequences,” Martin said.
Kennedy Love’s family wants to use this case to not only send a message to the people of San Luis Obispo, but to inspire people to be willing to do more than just a little to prevent drinking and driving.
“This is preventable and predictable,” Dee Dee Love said. “People should go a step further to physically stop people from drinking and driving.”
Managing Editor of Content Austin Brumblay also contributed to this report.