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Las Vegas teens’ families get closure from murder conviction

Updated October 2, 2019 - 5:54 am

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. — As the sunset painted a fierce orange sky over the coast of Huntington Beach on Tuesday evening, Albert Rossi ran toward the busy intersection with three bouquets of red roses — one for each of the Centennial High School students killed while on spring break in 2018.

Just two hours earlier, a jury had convicted Bani Duarte — the drunken driver responsible for the fiery car wreck that killed three Las Vegas teens, including Rossi’s son — of second-degree murder. She faces 51 years to life in prison and is set to be sentenced Oct. 30 in Orange County Superior Court.

“We won. We won. It can’t bring you back, but …” Rossi yelled as he threw the three dozen roses at an engraved boulder on the northwest corner of the intersection. “I wish it was me in that grave. I love you.”

The City of Huntington Beach dedicated the boulder to the teens following the crash. The memorial reads, in part, “In Memory of Those Who Have Lost Their Lives Due to Drunk Drivers.”

Rossi’s son and namesake, Albert “A.J.” Rossi, and his friends Brooke Hawley, 17, and Dylan Mack, 18, were in Huntington Beach when they were killed on March 29, 2018, on the Pacific Coast Highway. A fourth teen, Alexis Vargas, survived but suffered second-degree burns and a concussion.

Shortly after 1:10 a.m., Duarte’s speeding Hyundai Sonata slammed into the back of the teens’ car, which was stopped at a red light at the intersection with Magnolia Street. The nearly 80 mph impact forced their car through the intersection and into a pole on the northwest corner before it burst into flames.

Duarte’s blood alcohol level was 0.28 percent two hours after the crash, more than three times the legal limit for drivers in California.

“My name was killed when he died,” Rossi told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “I waited 29 years for him, and he was stolen from me.”

Nearby, Dylan Mack’s family members, including his parents, Renee and Morgan, embraced their longtime friends Kaitie Fowler and Fowler’s mother, Debby Hudanish.

Fowler’s son Tyler had been best friends with Dylan since they were in eighth grade. The families lived down the street from each other, and Dylan considered Fowler his second mom and referred to Hudanish as “Grandma.”

“One time I was at the store and I heard someone screaming, ‘Grandma, Grandma,’” Hudanish said, laughing. “I turned around and it was Dylan. He was just the sweetest like that.”

Tuesday evening marked the last time — at least for the foreseeable future — that the Macks will visit the site of the crash.

“We’re going to put this behind us. The verdict was the end of this for us,” Renee Mack said, smiling. “Time was standing still for a very long time.”

Pointing at the cars driving by, she added, “It’s like this. Like cars passing by and you’re just watching life go on while you’re just stuck in this one place.”

On Wednesday morning the Macks will drive home to Las Vegas, where they will focus on “living life.”

“It’s what Dylan would want,” Renee Mack said.

Contact Rio Lacanlale at rlacanlale@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0381. Follow @riolacanlale on Twitter.

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