On April 18, Gianna Brencola was sentenced at the San Luis Obispo Superior Court to seven years in federal prison. Zach Donnenfield | Mustang News

Eighteen-year-old Los Osos native Gianna Brencola was sentenced to seven years in state prison Wednesday for hitting and killing Cal Poly student Kennedy Love while driving under the influence last year.

An emotional hearing

Silence dominated the crowded courtroom before Kennedy’s mother, Dorthanna Love, rose to the podium.

“This is my son, Kennedy Love, with his guitar and infectious smile. I wanted to put a face to the name and tell you about him,” Dorthanna said, holding up a photo of Kennedy for the judge to see.

Dorthanna Love, Kennedy Love’s mother, spoke at the sentencing. Zach Donnenfield | Mustang News
Dorthanna Love, Kennedy Love’s mother, spoke at the sentencing. Zach Donnenfield | Mustang News

Kennedy, a landscape architecture junior at the time, was killed Aug. 29, 2017, while riding his bike on Foothill Boulevard around 11:30 p.m. Brencola, 17 years old at the time, hit Kennedy with her car while driving under the influence of alcohol, and then drove away, leaving Kennedy to die.

Kennedy was an active member of the campus and San Luis Obispo communities. According to his mother, he went to Bosnia with Cal Poly’s Engineers Without Borders program and shortly after took a gap year from school to “travel the world and love people.”

In the courtroom, Dorthanna continued to share Kennedy’s life through pictures and memories, telling the courtroom that this past Sunday was his birthday.

“April 15 would have been his 23rd birthday, and instead of celebrating with him, we had to go to his grave site,” Dorthanna said.

She spoke of the hundreds of lives her son touched through generosity, music and adventure. The sentencing was moved to a larger courtroom due to the overwhelming number of family and friend who showed up to support Kennedy.

Kennedy’s only sibling and older sister, Candise Wade, took the stand next to share her testimony and ask the judge to sentence Brencola to the maximum sentence of 10 years in state prison, trying her as an adult.

“We don’t believe you’re a bad person or unworthy of love and a long beautiful life,” Wade said directly to Brencola, who had been sobbing. “We hope that you have a redemption story and a family of your own, freedom and joy, and that ultimately in the long run that this won’t define who you are, but you have to take responsibility of your choices.”

Amid tears, Wade laid out her reasoning for the maximum sentence, pointing to five instances where Brencola could have potentially avoided Kennedy’s death by making different choices.

Zach Donnenfield | Mustang News

Brencola’s crime and defense

In the end, Brencola was tried as an adult on the account of vehicular manslaughter, driving under the influence and a felony hit and run.

Brencola’s defense acknowledged and took responsibility for Kennedy’s death, but asked the judge to consider Brencola’s age as reason to serve her time on probation. However, the judge agreed with Brencola’s probation report, recommending seven years in state prison.

She was sentenced to seven years in state prison along with several thousand dollars in fines for her actions.

To make a decision, the judge weighed the family’s testimonies, the written probation report and prior court hearing reports, along with Brencola’s prior record. Brencola was at fault in a head-on collision four months prior to the accident, though no one was severely injured. She also admitted to drinking heavily several times a week, but had no prior criminal record and, according to her probation report, behaved well during the nearly six months she served in jail leading up to her sentencing.

On the day of Kennedy’s death, Brencola had reportedly been drinking since the morning and was offered alternative rides home, yet she declined and drove while still under the influence.

After hitting Kennedy, she kept driving and stopped at a nearby Panda Express parking lot where, according to Dorthanna, witnesses heard Brencola say, “I hit him with my car,” several times. Brencola was then picked up by a friend and attempted to hide the incident, lying about how her car had been damaged.

According to the judge, Brencola’s blood alcohol content was 0.15 percent, nearly double the legal limit.

The judge said he felt Brencola did show remorse and hopes this will turn her life around.

Friends and family speak after the decision

After the sentencing, Mustang News spoke to Kennedy’s sister and friends.

“I wish we didn’t have to be here. I wish that Kennedy was here and that Gianna didn’t have to be in jail. I don’t feel a sense of resolution knowing that she is being punished. I don’t feel a sense of resolution with this process. I think, like, I’m just glad it’s over,” Wade said. “I really hope that it’s a transformative experience for her and not just, like, seven years wasted.”

Kennedy’s friends gathered around his family and hugged his mother and father, who thanked them for showing their support for their son.

“[Landscape architecture students] become a family because we are literally in [the studio] for hours and hours and got to know him very well and saw his spirit through his daily living, his joy that he brought to all of us, so hearing this was really hard,” friend of Kennedy and landscape architecture junior Morgan Tashjian said.

Friends of Kennedy Love attended Brencola’s sentencing. Zach Donnenfield | Mustang News
Friends of Kennedy Love attended Brencola’s sentencing. Zach Donnenfield | Mustang News

Another friend of Kennedy, sociology junior Chloe Gurgel, shared her admiration for his liveliness and giving character.

“I still feel like it hasn’t really hit me yet,” Gurgel said. “He literally has given his shirt off his back to someone—he has literally done that. He was just the most selfless, unique, special person. I’ve never met anyone like him.”

A bike in memory of Kennedy remains at Front Porch, where he frequently visited.

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