Torrey Pines High School students react to drunk driver sentencing

By Max Sutton-Smolin


The sentencing of a 17-year-old fellow student did not shock Torrey Pines High School students. It did not leave them crying in the hallways at school.

The worst of that was over.

The juvenile was sentenced Dec. 10 to probation and a minimum of 283 days in a juvenile camp for driving while intoxicated and crashing his car, killing one passenger (fellow TPHS student Alex Capozza) and seriously injuring another. The sentencing reflects a general climate at TPHS of well-wishing for the driver, as well as providing relief at some sign of closure of the ordeal.

“Basically our whole school just wanted the best for everyone,” TPHS senior Allison Pfingst said. “The whole school was so upset about it, and none of Alex’s family or anyone wanted (the driver) to go to jail. So everyone was pretty relieved at the sentence.”

Trent Newquist, a junior at TPHS, was close friends with Capozza, and the two families were close as well.

“I think it was a pretty fair sentence for all that happened,” Newquist said. "(The driver) is a good guy and everyone at our school loves him, but there has to be some sort of punishment for what happened.”

For weeks, the death of one student and the vehicular manslaughter trial of another have affected the whole school, Pfingst said, with people “crying in the hallways” and other “terrible things happening.”

Cole Short, a senior at TPHS, went to middle school with the driver and did not know Capozza personally. Short harbors no ill feelings toward the driver, he said.

“I’ve had friends die in the past through drunk driving, and ... people never get numb to it,” Short said. “It’s always going to be just as grievous as it was before.”

The punishment was more important for people following the trial and not directly involved in it than for the driver himself, Short said.

A lot of people believed the sentence would be much worse, “but I don’t know anyone — even Alex’s friends — who wanted anything bad to happen to (the driver),” Pfingst said.

TPHS senior Sydney Gerbracht said that she “was torn” between her ties to the two boys’ families and friends. She was close with both boys and has known the driver since middle school and Capozza since elementary school.

“For the trial, being (the driver’s) friend, I wanted him to get out as soon as possible, but at the same time, as Alex’s killer, I wanted him to understand the severity of the situation and understand that what he did is not excusable under any circumstances,” Gerbracht said.

The sentencing seems fair to her but is difficult for her to evaluate personally because the trial was so removed from her, she said.

Time was most effective as a healer in this situation, Gerbracht said. Her initial reaction was one of despair but also anger that it took the death of Capozza to show students not to drink and drive.

“I definitely think that (the driver) should have known better, we’ve had to take his keys away before,” Gerbracht said.

Students all have “Rest in Peace Alex” bracelets to remind them not to drink and drive, and the message hit home this time, Pfingst said.

“I definitely think it’s going to stop Torrey Pines (students) for sure from drinking and driving,” Newquist said. “This whole thing has affected everyone at our school.”

Short’s and Gerbracht’s perspectives paint a bleaker picture.

“I’m not going to say any names or anything, but the next day I heard people talking about going out and partying again,” Short said. “So maybe just people who were really close to him would be more cautious with (drinking and driving).”

TPHS students, or those who were affected in some way by this accident, may drink and drive less for the next four years, Gerbracht said.

“But when the new class comes in and they weren’t affected, and they don’t remember, there might be kids who do it again,” Gerbracht said.

“Teachers and administrators really need to crack down ... They need to make it real. It’s not real enough.”

This newspaper has a policy of not disclosing the names of minors charged with crimes.