Mother of drunken-driving victim hopes defendant turns life around

Serjei Cahuantzi and his mother, Marilyn.

Serjei Cahuantzi used to call his mother, Marilyn, in Washington, D.C., every Sunday. He never missed a call.

It was one of Marilyn's requests since her oldest son had moved to Charleston.

"He was religious about making that call," she said.

On Jan. 27, 2013, Marilyn waited all day to hear from Serjei.

That night, her other son, Justin, called instead.

He had tragic news: Serjei had died.

"He would call every Sunday. He died on a Sunday," Marilyn Cahuantzi said.

His Jeep had rolled over three times on the interstate ejecting him from the vehicle. His passenger, a friend and former roommate, had been hospitalized and a Hanahan woman whose car had hit the Jeep had been arrested for drunken driving.

In a downtown Charleston courtroom Tuesday, Marilyn Cahuantzi faced Lisa Pistolis, who pleaded guilty to one count of felony DUI with death resulting and felony DUI resulting in great bodily injury.

Pistolis, 26, was sentenced to six years in prison and to five years of probation. If she violates her probation, Pistolis could serve up to another four years in prison.

"This sentence was the result of many long and hard discussions with the victim's family and was the result that they wanted," said 9th Circuit Assistant Solicitor Culver Kidd, who prosecuted the case.

"I think it signifies an unparalleled level of compassion and understanding by the family of the victim."

Pistolis, who at one point had been attending Charleston Southern University, will get credit for the 81 days she served in jail in Charleston County. She will be eligible for parole after serving four years.

Marilyn Cahuantzi said the past 16 months have been very traumatic for her family and she didn't want the process to drag on.

"I couldn't live with another three years of this," she said.

Following her arrest, Pistolis spent about three months in jail and was then transferred to a residential treatment facility in North Carolina, according to her attorney, Calvin Carroll.

"She was very serious about her recovery," Carroll said. "She was very remorseful about the harm that resulted (from the crash)."

Pistolis spent 255 days in the facility before she transferred to a sober living community in Delray Beach, Fla., where she had been living until returning to South Carolina for the plea, Carroll said.

Carroll said Pistolis plans to return to Florida following her release from prison.

"Our hope is that this young lady will turn her life around and do something meaningful in honor of the life she took away," said Marilyn Cahuantzi.

Serjei Cahuantzi had worked in the restaurant business for several years and spent eight years working at Rue de Jean. His mother said he was loved by many.

"Over 300 people appeared to the chapel for his funeral," she said. "I had no idea what an impact he had on his community."

His family created a YouTube video in honor of Serjei, which includes photos of him throughout his life, his memorial service and the damaged Jeep.

Pistolis' arrest drew attention when Facebook photos surfaced showing her partying.

Before the fatal wreck, she had been drinking with a friend at Gene's Haufbrau, a West Ashley bar, the friend later told the police.

They shared mimosas, a mixture of sparkling wine and orange juice, authorities said.

Then as Pistolis drove east on Interstate 526, her Ford veered from her lane several times, police said.

A motorist called 911 to report his suspicions that the Ford's driver was drunk.

Pistolis drifted into the median at Dorchester Road, overcorrected, then struck the Jeep carrying Cahuantzi and his passenger, Hart Crouch, 34, of Charleston, according to authorities.

Cahuantzi, 35, died at the scene. Crouch was hospitalized with serious injuries. He suffered internal bleeding, and head, back and hip injuries, according to Kidd.

Pistolis' blood alcohol content was 0.17 percent, more than twice the legal limit, Kidd said. Marilyn Cahuantzi filed a suit against Pistolis and Gene's Haufbrau.

The suit claimed the West Ashley bar was negligent by serving Pistolis enough alcohol so that she became intoxicated.

It further alleges the bar failed to provide Pistolis with a safe means of transportation and her intoxication led to the death of Cahuantzi, according to the complaint.

The suits have both been settled, according to court records.

The attorney representing Gene's Haufbrau did not respond to a request for comment.

At the time of her arrest following the fatal crash, Pistolis was already awaiting a jury trial in a separate DUI arrest from February 2012.

The previous DUI case remains pending, according to prosecutors.

Reach Natalie Caula Hauff at 937-5594 or