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Grieving family demands justice one year after tragic death of 15-year-old as perpetrator remains free

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Relatives and friends of the victim, Leeyan Yan, hold a picket near Oakton High School in Vienna, Virginia, the site of the incident, on June 7. [Seyong Park, The Korea Daily]
One year has passed since the tragic death of Leeyan Yan, a 15-year-old Korean-American high school student who was fatally struck by a reckless driver while walking near Oakton High School in Vienna, Virginia.

Despite the gravity of the incident, the perpetrator remains free, and has been found to have a job and an active social life.

On June 7, the first anniversary of the accident, grieving family members and friends organized a protest at the site of the tragedy, demanding justice.

The incident took place in the afternoon of June 7, 2022, when 18-year-old Usman Shahid, accompanied by his friends, was driving a BMW at 81 mph on a two-lane road with a 35 mph speed limit.

In an attempt to avoid colliding with a car making a left turn at an intersection, Shahid veered and struck three students, including Yan, who were walking on the sidewalk.

Yan and Ada Gabriela lost their lives in the crash, while Katya Gabriela sustained critical injuries.

Shortly after the incident, Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis described it as a “tragedy involving a reckless driver who struck students walking on the street while trying to avoid a traffic accident.”

Fairfax County State Attorney Steve Descano called for “severe punishment,” and Shahid was initially charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter, potentially carrying a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison if convicted. However, one year later, justice has yet to be served.

A desolate road in Vienna, Virginia, on July 7, was marked by an ashy sky due to the Canadian wildfires. Dozens of candles and bouquets of flowers were left at the scene to commemorate the tragedy that occurred a year ago. Around 10 individuals waved signs at passing vehicles and distributed flyers to pedestrians.

A grieving mother met with us at the site and expressed her despair. “The trial has been postponed, and the responsible individuals in custody have been released,” she lamented.

Shahid appeared in court on July 8, 2022 and was released on a $250,000 unsecured bond. His trial is scheduled for July 24, 2023 in Fairfax Circuit Court, according to the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office.

Adding to her distress was the perceived inaction of the prosecution. “I had a meeting with the prosecutor last week, and he asked me, ‘Why don’t you consider reducing the sentence because the perpetrator is young and has a long life ahead?'” she shared, feeling “incredibly angry and indignant” about the prosecutor’s suggestion for a de facto settlement.

The Yan family, who lost their loved one in the accident, has not received any compensation, while the Gabriela family, whose daughter Katya remains hospitalized, struggles to cover the mounting medical expenses.

“It simply doesn’t make sense,” remarked Pastor Young Bae Kim of Kingstowne Baptist Church, who participated in the protest.

“The driver was held 100 percent accountable for the accident, leading to the loss of two lives,” he added, emphasizing the crucial importance of accountability.

“If this goes unanswered, who will address the grief of the bereaved families and the injustice faced by the children whose lives were taken?”

BY SEYONG PARKĀ  [support@koreadaily.com]