Edith Delgado holds back tears as she expresses remorse during a Monday interview in the San Jose office of her attorney, Randy Moore (left).
Edith Delgado holds back tears as she expresses remorse during a Monday interview in the San Jose office of her attorney, Randy Moore (left). Delgado was recently convicted of misdemeanors in the car accident that killed two members of the Tongan royal family. (Len Vaughn-Lahman - MediaNews)
SAN JOSE — Seated in her defense attorney's brown leather chair, Edith Delgado gazed into TV camera lenses, bowed her head and formally apologized for causing the car crash, which killed the royal prince of Tonga, the prince's wife and the couple's driver.

"It wasn't my intention whatsoever to hurt anyone," Delgado, 19, said Monday afternoon. "If I had the chance to switch places with those people, then I would."

It was the first apology that Delgado had uttered since the notorious crash last July, and it came four days after a jury unanimously agreed to acquit the former high schooler of the three felony counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence associated with the accident.

Delgado, convicted instead of three misdemeanor counts of vehicular manslaughter, was released from the county jail last week — only hours after the decision to acquit her of the more serious charges.

A judge had slashed the young woman's $1 million bail to $40,000 and now, Delgado was speaking out after spending her first weekend of freedom at home with her family.

Dressed conservatively in a gray suit and a tan blouse, Delgado's eyes filled with tears as she unburdened herself of a year's worth of thoughts.

"A lot of people have said what they think I'm going through," Delgado told reporters. "But they haven't had a chance to hear it from me."

Delgado said the car crash — which occurred when Delgado's Ford Mustang sideswiped the Tongans' Ford Explorer on Highway 101 in Menlo Park, causing the SUV to roll several times and land on its roof — has been visible in her mind every night before she goes to sleep and every morning when she wakes up. The collision caused the deaths of Tonga's Prince Tu'ipelehake, 54; Princess Kaimana Tu'ipelehake, 45; and Vinisia Hefa, 36, of East Palo Alto, who had been chauffeuring the royals.

"It was more than just an accident — I think everyone agrees with that," Delgado said, accepting responsibility for the Tongans' deaths. "It will be hard to get over it. I don't think I ever will."

But Delgado, who earned her GED in the county jail and told reporters that she plans to attend college, said the car crash had made some positive impacts on her life.

"I feel like it's made me a better person," she said, explaining that she is no longer so quick to judge the faults of others and is more adept at appreciating the smaller things in life.

"I took a lot of things for granted — like the air that you breathe and the stars in the sky when you're driving home," Delgado said.

Since Delgado arrived at home with her family, she said she has not driven once.

"I'm still scared," she said. "I don't even want to think about driving for some time."

When asked if she knew the whereabouts of the white Mustang — her father's car — which struck the Tongans' Explorer, Delgado replied, "I think it's at a towing yard, but I don't want to see it again."

During her first weekend free, Delgado said, she reacquainted herself with the youngest members of her extended family. Balancing her 4-year-old niece on her lap in her defense attorney's office, Delgado said the little ones had "gotten the wrong idea" about what sort of person she is.

Throughout the young woman's 21/2-week trial, the prosecution portrayed Delgado as a reckless driver with a reputation for fast driving, a love for her sports car and an abiding interest in speed and auto sideshows.

But Delgado used Monday's media opportunity to accuse the prosecution of misconstruing her character. The love she felt for her Mustang and the passion she showed for driving, she said, were taken too far out of context.

"I never thought my words could get twisted around so much or my facts gotten so differently," Delgado said.

The past 11 months in jail were difficult, Delgado said, but faith in God, love and support from her family and an assortment of Danielle Steel and James Patterson novels helped her to pull through. 

Delgado's defense attorney Randy Moore said he felt confident that Delgado, who is eligible for three consecutive years in jail, will likely face only a concurrent sentence of one year.

With time off for good behavior, Moore predicted, Delgado may not even have to return to jail after she appears in court for her Aug. 24 sentencing date.

Delgado's immediate summer plans, she told reporters in Spanish and in English, were to piece her life back together by looking for a job — beginning by re-applying to the Bank of America, where she had previously worked as a bank teller.

Eventually, Delgado said, she would seek out a career devoted to "helping others."

I want to help people," she said. "And me going through this and being strong — I feel like I can do that."

Staff writer Michael Manekin can be reached at (650) 348-4331 or by e-mail at mmanekin@sanmateocountytimes.com.