Home Main Former Cuesta student pleads guilty in hit-and-run death of Cal Poly student

Former Cuesta student pleads guilty in hit-and-run death of Cal Poly student


Former Cuesta student Gianna Brencola appeared in court with her defense lawyer for a prior hearing on Nov. 7.
File photo by Alexander Bissell / Cuestonian Photo & Video Chief

By Rachel Barnes

Gianna Brencola was going to Cuesta when she made a decision that would forever impact her life.

And end the life of another.

That August night Brencola was offered more than one option to avoid drinking and driving, and yet ignored each, according to court documents obtained by the Cuestonian.

Not only did she make the choice to drink and drive, but when the collision happened she reportedly fled the scene in an attempt to escape the severity of her actions — leaving Cal Poly student Kennedy Love to die in the middle of the street after she struck him while he was riding his bicycle.

Brencola would admit to police later that night that she had been downing shots of vodka and socializing with friends at Valencia Apartments.

“She admitted to drinking shots of vodka, but claimed that she waited ‘hours’ before driving her car,” according to court documents. “She also indicated that she was a cautious driver ever since she was involved in a serious collision in April 2017.”

However, when a blood test was taken five hours later, it showed her blood-alcohol content was .148, nearly two times the legal driving limit for adults. Brencola was 17 at the time.

Last fall, Brencola pled not guilty to charges of vehicular manslaughter, felony DUI and felony hit-and-run.

In a recent court hearing, Brencola amended her plea to guilty to the same charges. It is unclear to what prompted her change in plea, which was entered March 6.

Brencola’s sentencing is set for April 18 where the victim’s family may have an opportunity to present victim- witness statements before Judge Craig van Rooyen. The maximum sentence she could receive is 10 years in state prison, according to the District Attorney’s office.

Court documents, filed by the prosecution in regard to sentencing, tell a devastating story about the events that occurred Aug. 29 when a young girl decided to drink and drive.

DUI arrests in San Luis Obispo County for 2016 are a little higher than in previous years and 50 percent of those arrests are from motorists between 18 and 25, according to SLO city’s annual traffic safety report.

For many, the message to not “drink and drive” is a frequent refrain. The words are on billboards, commercials, advertisements, and even in school assemblies.

“It is impossible to imagine a scenario in which Ms. Brencola had somehow missed this lesson or failed to appreciate that drinking and driving is dangerous to human life,” according to the court documents.

In fact, a friend of hers, another Cuesta student, had been at the social gathering with Brencola and told her that it wouldn’t be safe to drive. To him, she seemed too intoxicated to drive and he even offered to give her a ride home.

“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 court documents.

Following the collision, Brencola reportedly called her friend for a ride away from the scene after she had abandoned her damaged vehicle on Tassajara Street.

The student stated that when he arrived to pick up Brencola, she was “freaking out.” She told him that she believed a brick hit her windshield causing it to shatter.

However, as she was asleep in his house, he looked at KSBY’s website, likely after receiving an alert, and woke her up to find out what she knew. She then took an Uber ride to her home in Los Osos.

Another witness was across the street at Cork ‘n’ Bottle Liquor Store on Foothill Boulevard when he said he heard the collision.

“He then saw a young female exit the driver‘s side door and examine the damage to her vehicle while exclaiming ‘I hit him, I hit him!’,” according to the court documents.

Love, 22, was riding his bike down Foothill Boulevard, near Ferrini Road, at approximately 11:30 p.m. on Aug. 29 when the suspect allegedly hit him, left the scene and then abandoned her vehicle, officials said.

Police arrested Brencola about an hour later after locating her in her Los Osos home, authorities said.

Brencola, who was 17 at the time of the incident, 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 the prosecution’s recent request for Brencola to be sentenced to prison – as opposed to a county jail – Deputy District Attorney Chase Martin stated in court documents that she “had shown a reckless attitude toward the consumption of alcohol.”

In the vehicle Brencola abandoned, police found false ID’s believed to be for the purpose of obtaining alcohol illegally.

“The fact that Ms. Brencola failed to heed the numerous warnings not to place others in danger by driving under the influence should tilt in favor of a prison sentence,” Martin stated.