In a Suffolk courtroom, tears of rage follow cries of remorse
Xiao Ying Zhou looked up at the woman she struck with her SUV two years ago, the woman she dragged for more than 3 miles through the streets, and wept.
“I’m sorry,” she said pleadingly to Yue Yin Gong, who sustained catastrophic injuries in the Chinatown crash that left her unable to walk on her own, work, or bathe herself.
Gong, 51, who was being wheeled back to her seat after delivering a victim impact statement in a Boston courtroom Thursday, looked at Zhou seated at the defense table.
“I want my life back,” Gong wailed, raising her fists in the air. Zhou, 47, lowered her head and sobbed.
The wrenching scene between the two women, both Chinese immigrants, came two days after Zhou pleaded guilty in the horrific hit-and-run crash. On Thursday, she was sentenced to five to six years in prison for striking Gong and her husband as they crossed Kneeland Street in Chinatown early on Feb. 1, 2016, trapping Gong beneath her vehicle. She did not stop, and dragged Gong through Chinatown and onto Interstate 93 before pulling over.
Suffolk Assistant District Attorney Robert Connelly asked that Zhou be sentenced to at least 10 years in prison. Judge Peter Krupp said a sentence of at least five years balanced the gravity of the injuries she inflicted and her own history of emotional trauma.
“I cannot find, based on everything that I know, that you knew there was someone trapped under the vehicle,” Krupp said. “I impose this sentence in recognition of the limited capacity and mental health issues that I understand you to have, the extreme history of abuse that has been described to me by your counsel, the fact that further incarceration of you will not bring about any solution for the people harmed by your driving.”
Zhou’s lawyer, Michelle Troiano, said her client suffered from serious emotional trauma, the result of many ordeals she had endured in China. In the 1980s, authorities seized one of her children under the government’s one-child policy, Troiano said.
“She’s never made that an excuse,” Troiano said. “She’s been incredibly remorseful.”
In court, Zhou was nearly inconsolable, crying so hard that Troiano had to pause during her argument for a lighter sentence.
“I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry,” Zhou cried repeatedly when Krupp asked her if she had anything to say to the court.
Before the crash, Gong and her husband, Qi Lun Feng, both worked at Chinese restaurants. After their shifts, they would meet at the Chinatown Gate near Beach Street to walk home together. On that February night, the couple had left work and were crossing the street around 1:40 a.m. when Zhou drove into them in her white Toyota Rav4. She struck both of them, but Gong became caught in the undercarriage of the car. Witnesses watched in horror as the car drove through city streets and onto the highway.
Prosecutors have said they interviewed witnesses who saw Zhou get out of her car at one point, look underneath the car and try to dislodge something. Zhou then got back in the car and kept driving. But in the days after the crash, Zhou’s lawyers said she stopped when she realized someone was stuck under the vehicle.
She pleaded guilty to battery with a dangerous weapon causing serious bodily injury, leaving the scene of a collision causing personal injury, and negligent operation of a motor vehicle.
Gong and her husband had requested the maximum sentence.
“I believe she caused me harm willfully,” Gong said in Cantonese through an interpreter. “She really caused me lots of pain.”
Her husband said that before the crash the couple had been hoping to sponsor relatives in China to come to the United States. But with Gong unable to work and contribute to the costs of bringing their family over, that dream has been dashed, he said.
Zhou, who had no criminal record before the collision, has already spent more than 2½ years in jail awaiting trial, time that was credited to her sentence. She could be released by April 2021.
Krupp noted that after her release, her conviction for a felony would likely lead to her immediate deportation to China.