Updated: 18-year-old sentenced to community service for providing alcohol to girl who died

18-year-old Kayla Dunigan, left, with 15-year-old Sarah Botill.

The 18-year-old girl who provided alcohol to 15-year-old Gilroy
High School student Sarah Botill last year before her death was
sentenced to 50 hours of community service.
The 18-year-old girl who provided alcohol to 15-year-old Gilroy High School student Sarah Botill last year before her death was sentenced to 50 hours of community service.

Kayla Dunigan pleaded guilty to a charge of furnishing alcohol to someone under the age of 21 and was sentenced on April 26. As part of the sentence handed down by Judge Ronald Toff, Dunigan can receive 10 hours credit for each lecture that she gives to youth on the dangers of alcohol, district attorney spokeswoman Amy Cornell said. Dunigan was also required to surrender her driver’s license for one year.

Dunigan already has given three presentations at schools on the Central Coast and plans to give two more before her next court hearing June 21, according to Dunigan’s attorney, Larry Biegel. Most of Dunigan’s speaking engagements will be at middle and high schools, Cornell said.

Biegel said he was amazed with Deputy District Attorney Vishal Bathija’s response toward Dunigan.

“I give a lot of credit to that deputy DA because he was extraordinarily sensitive to what was going on,” Biegel said.

Specifically, Bathija told Dunigan that he wanted her to know that she did not cause Botill’s death and that she should not carry that burden with her for the rest of her life, Biegel said. However, Bathija told her that what she did was wrong, Biegel said.

Police cited and released Dunigan on Feb. 24 for giving vodka to 15-year-old Sarah Botill at a Dec. 5 slumber party after which Botill died.

Dunigan pleaded guilty because she knew she had done wrong, Biegel said.

The maximum possible sentence for furnishing alcohol to a minor is six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. The minimum penalty is a $1,000 fine and 24 hours of community service.

Bathija stated in an e-mail Wednesday that unusual circumstances required an unusual sentence.

“Ms. Dunigan’s sentence is not typical, as the circumstances surrounding the case were not typical,” he wrote.

The District Attorney’s office determined there was not enough evidence to link Dunigan’s law violation to the teen’s death and that she should not face charges related to her death. Although the teenager died several hours after drinking alcohol furnished by Dunigan, the Santa Clara County Coroner’s Office was unable to determine the exact cause of the teenager’s death.

Dunigan brought a bottle of Ketel One vodka to a birthday party at the Bunting Court house of former City Councilman Roland Velasco and his wife, Lisa, on Dec. 5, according to police. The three girls who were at the party – Botill, Dunigan and Lisa Velasco’s daughter – were drinking the vodka mixed with sparkling cider, unbeknownst to the Velascos, police have said.

Botill – the daughter of a Gilroy firefighter – became increasingly ill after the girls had been drinking, vomiting several times. She and Lisa Velasco’s daughter put on bathing suits and got in the shower to wash off the vomit. Botill ultimately died shortly after being transported to Saint Louise Regional Hospital about 9:30 a.m., police said. Dunigan left the house about 5 a.m. after being disgusted by Botill’s vomiting, police said.

Botill’s autopsy report stated that her death cannot be determined, but her blood alcohol level – about .053 percent one to two hours before her death – was far below what would normally be fatal. She may have died from a preexisting heart condition that was exacerbated by alcohol or by inhaling a significant amount of water or watery vomit while intoxicated, the report said.

Dunigan was willing to give a presentation at Gilroy High School about the incident as part of her sentencing, but her family did not think that was a good idea, Biegel said.

“It’s very difficult to do,” Biegel said. “She doesn’t mention Sarah’s name because that was the family’s wish.”

As a result of that wish, Biegel did not want to reveal the identity of the schools where Dunigan has spoken thus far. Still, he said the presentations appear to be making an impact.

He read from a letter that he said was written by an administrator from a private high school on the Central Coast. The letter stated that Dunigan provided a meaningful presentation at the school’s girls dormitory.

Dunigan gave a 15-minute presentation and then answered questions from students on various topics, including her future plans and whether she blames herself for what happened, according to the letter. A few girls approached her personally after the presentation, the letter said.

“Kayla was very articulate and honest about everything,” the administrator wrote.

Biegel believes the sentence was handled fairly.

“It’s just sad for everyone involved – for the parents who lost a child, for these girls who lost a very good friend,” he said.