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Driver faces charges in I-10 death of cycle racing champ’s son

09 Apr

A man accused of killing the son of a prominent Orange County racing family while driving drunk is scheduled to enter a plea Monday to charges that include manslaughter.

Tatsuhiko Sakamoto, 37, of Arcadia, drove through traffic cones and slammed into a roadwork crew on the I-10 freeway in Baldwin Park last week, according to the California Highway Patrol. The crash killed 21-year-old Connor Penhall of Corona, who was operating a concrete saw as a member of the crew.

Penhall’s father, Bruce, was a champion motorcycle rider who later joined the cast of “CHiPs” on television, portraying Officer Bruce Nelson. The Penhall family came to Orange County in the 1800s and founded Anaheim-based Penhall Co., which now claims to be the nation’s largest concrete-demolition company. The company was later sold.

Connor Penhall raced motocross and competed with his older brother Ryan in the Baja desert races. He won the motorcycle championship in 2007, according to Score International, the organization that sanctions the Baja 1000.

Sakamoto has been charged with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated in connection with Connor Penhall’s death. He has also been charged with driving with a 0.08 percent blood-alcohol level causing injury and a special allegation of causing great bodily injury.

He was being held in lieu of $200,000 bail. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in state prison, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

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