Pedro Pantoja Jr., a 32-year-old Diamond Bar resident who crashed into and killed David Kawashima, a 62-year-old professional photographer from Orange, in Tustin during a high-speed police chase in a stolen car while under the influence of meth, was sentenced last Friday to 38 years and four months to life in prison.
Pantoja Jr. was found guilty of second-degree murder for the 2021 pursuit and crash that ended with the death Kawashima, who had worked extensively for the City of Irvine. He documented city milestones and moments for nearly 15 tears. After his death, Kawashima’s name was added to Irvine’s “Wall of Recognition” at Col. Bill Barber Marine Corps Memorial Park, and a photography studio at the Irvine Fine Arts Center was renamed in his honor.
Pantoja tried to apologize to Kawashima’s family prior to being sentenced. He said that he was “a drug addict and a criminal,” He then begged for forgiveness but O.C. Superior Court Judge Michael Leverson was having none of that B.S. “Saying you’re sorry doesn’t cut it,” the judge admonished Pantoja.
Judge Leverson also reminded those in court that Pantoja, now 32, had many previous chances to turn his life around, noting he has faced more than a dozen felony convictions and nearly a dozen misdemeanor convictions since the age of 21. Those included a previous DUI conviction that led to him receiving a warning — known as a Watson Advisement — that if he continued to drink and drive and killed someone he could be charged with murder.
Pantoja will now have to serve 38 years and four months behind bars before he is even eligible for parole. He is quite likely to die in prison.
On April 18, 2021, Pantoja, fled from the Tustin police in a stolen vehicle and he then caused a fatal collision on Jamboree near Warner.
The Irvine Police Department Major Accident Investigation Team (MAIT) spent hundreds of hours meticulously investigating the tragic collision.
According to the OCDA prosecutors, Tustin police officers responded at about 8:45 a.m. April 18, 2021, to the District at Tustin Legacy shopping center because a driver appeared to be passed out in an In-N-Out restaurant’s drive-thru.
Pantoja fled from the scene in what turned out to be a stolen car, from the Tustin police officers, at a high rate of speed through a Costco gas station while other drivers were pumping gas. He then ran a red light before he drove northbound in the southbound lanes of Jamboree Road.
Pantoja proceeded about 300 yards before he crashed head-on into a vehicle driven by David Kawashima, a 62-year-old resident of Orange at Jamboree near Warner Avenue, according to the Irvine Police Dept. Kawashima was pronounced dead at the scene.
Pantoja was hospitalized after the crash. There was also a woman in Pantoja’s car at the time of the crash. She was also hospitalized with injuries that were deemed to be not life-threatening. Pantoja claimed he hadn’t been driving the stolen SUV, but the female passenger identified him as the driver and in a recorded call to his girlfriend Pantoja acknowledged he had killed someone and was going to go away for a long time.
Pantoja, Jr. was convicted of felony charges including second-degree murder, driving under the influence of a drug causing injury, unlawful taking of a vehicle and evading a peace officer-reckless driving, as well as misdemeanor counts of possession of drug paraphernalia and driving on a suspended or revoked driver’s license due to a previous DUI.
Pantoja, Jr. was previously convicted of driving under the influence in Riverside.