Michael Keating served two years of a four-year sentence for killing his female friend, Mai Hayakawa, while driving drunk on August 22, 2010. Keating was released earlier this year, and he says he’s now struggling to put his life back together.
But Hayakawa’s family feels that he did not really pay for his crime for the simple reason that his family paid $72,000 to make sure his prison stay was as cushy as possible — under an actual, municipal program in Seal Beach and other California cities called “Pay To Stay.”
“I was so shocked,” said the grieving mom. “I feel his solution comes from money.”
Indeed, it does. The Pay To Stay program allows nonviolent DUI convicts and other low-risk offenders to spend their jail terms in an unlocked cell that comes complete with TV, phone, and even a full-size refrigerator, according to a recent report on Los Angeles TV station KNBC.
After drinking at a Fullerton, California, bar, Keating ran his Toyota off the road on an Orange County freeway. When the car smashed into a palm tree, Mai Hayakawa, in the passenger’s seat, was killed instantly.
But not just any nonviolent offender can stay in the luxury cells — only those who can pay. According to KNBC, the daily fee in Pasadena, California, is $143 per day — the sort of fee that can really add up for prisoners sentenced to a year or two — or four — in jail.
Police argue that the Pay To Stay program is not a lesser form of punishment.
“It’s good people who made a mistake, made a bad choice — and they have to pay the consequences,” Detective Laura Lomeli said. But, she added, “bottom line — if you don’t have the money, you’re not going to be able to stay.”
Keating, whose blood alcohol level after the accident was 0.9, just one-tenth of a percentage point over the legal 0.8 percent limit, admitted that his accommodations were “comfortable” in an interview with the Orange County Register soon after his release.
“Even the most comfortable cage is still a cage,” he said, adding that the most difficult part of his sentence was “trying to convince myself that I’m not a horrible person even when I didn’t believe it.”
Keating never apologized to the family of the high-spirited 22-year-old theater major who died as a result of his drunk driving. Knowing that Keating received preferential treatment only because he could afford it made losing her daughter even more painful, Mai Hayakawa’s mother, Chiho, says.
But Keating says he now regrets his failure to apologize.
“They’ll forgive me before I forgive myself,” Michael Keating, now 29, told the Register.
[Images via KNBC]