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UPDATE: Two plead no contest in 2012 street racers case

Driver of death car gets 6 years in prison

Posted: August 21, 2014 12:49 p.m.
Updated: August 21, 2014 5:07 p.m.

Mourners attend a memorial event at the Sand Canyon Road oak tree where Dakota Demott was killed during a street race in January 2012. Signal file photo

More than two years after they were arrested and charged with second-degree murder for the death of a friend while they were street racing on Sand Canyon Road, two young Canyon Country men pleaded no contest Thursday to lesser charges of vehicular manslaughter.

Thomas Joseph Vensko, 22, and co-defendant Cole Sean Doherty, 21, accepted plea deals negotiated by their attorneys and prosecutors that resulted in the less serious charges, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and defense attorneys said.

At a downtown Los Angeles Courthouse Thursday, Vensko pleaded no contest to one count of vehicular manslaughter, said his attorney, Todd Melnick.

Because of his plea deal, Vensko was sentenced to a four-year suspended sentence, District Attorney spokesman Greg Resling said. He received credit for time served and was freed following Thursday’s court proceedings, Melnick said.

Doherty, who was 19 at the time of the Jan. 10, 2012, crash, pleaded no contest to gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. He was sentenced to six years in prison, Resling said.

“This was a tragedy for all sides,” said Doherty’s attorney, John Hobson. “Given all the circumstances, I would say this was a reasonable outcome.”

Doherty was driving a Ford Mustang that went out of control on Sand Canyon Road in Santa Clarita and slammed into an oak tree, instantly killing Dakota Demott, 19, also of Canyon Country. Demott was a passenger in the Mustang. Doherty was critically injured in the crash.

Vensko, who was 20 at the time, was speeding in a Honda and fled the scene after the crash. He was arrested later.

He, Doherty and Demott were all recent graduates of Canyon High School.

As part of his sentence, Vensko was ordered to serve 80 hours of community service. He also must enroll in a court-approved “hospital and morgue program,” Resling said. The program requires Vensko to attend classes at a hospital and also complete a course administered by a county Department of Coroner official.

Vensko also had his license suspended for one year as part of the negotiated plea deal, Melnick said.

Both men were ordered to pay restitution. A restitution hearing for both was scheduled Sept. 12, Resling said.

As part of the negotiated settlements, prosecutors also agreed to drop an allegation that the two were involved in an illegal street race.

A grand jury indicted both defendants in May 2013, alleging they were involved in a “speed contest” and their vehicles were hurtling along the winding two-lane canyon road at more than 100 mph.

A news release issued Thursday by the D.A.’s Office said only that the defendants were “driving negligently” and at “a high rate of speed,” and also that Doherty was driving under the influence.

The second-degree murder charges filed against the duo drew lots of media attention. Resling declined to say Thursday why prosecutors dropped those charges and instead offered to negotiate pleas to lesser charges.

“We can’t comment on negotiated pleas,” Resling said.



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