6-month jail term for driver in fatal Highway 12 crash

  • Nicholas Tognozzi is shown during a March appearance in Sonoma County Superior Court. (JOHN BURGESS/ PD FILE, 2014)

A Rohnert Park man accused of killing two Santa Rosa women in a distracted-driving crash caused when he glanced at his cellphone settled his case Wednesday with an agreement to serve six months in jail.

Nicholas Tognozzi, 30, was facing trial on two counts of felony vehicular manslaughter in the March 15 crash that killed Sue Hufford, 53, and her mother- in-law, Sharon Hufford, 74.

Tognozzi was charged with rear-ending the Huffords’ car when he looked down at his phone while driving on Highway 12 to see if he received a text message.

He faced nearly a dozen years in prison if convicted. His trial was scheduled for Aug. 29.

Instead, Tognozzi reached a plea bargain with Judge Rene Chouteau that would allow members of the Hufford family to avoid testifying, said his lawyer, Matt Freeman.

He pleaded no contest to all charges in exchange for a one-year jail sentence and three years of probation. Under state sentencing laws and with credit for time served, he could be out by late December, Freeman said.

Also, Chouteau said he would reduce the convictions to misdemeanors if Tognozzi completes 18 months of probation.

“We never thought this was a felony case,” Freeman said outside court. “There was no impaired driving and no speeding. It was inattention. He glanced down at his phone.”

Chouteau offered no explanation for the agreement.

Prosecutor Dustin Hughson said he did not make a settlement offer to Tognozzi or enter the agreement. The victims’ family members were aware of the proposed deal but did not share their feelings about it, he said. A lawyer for the Huffords did not return a call seeking comment.

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