Man gets 10 years in accidental shooting death of Tacoma teenager

Staff writerJune 6, 2014 

Just last fall, Jalon Bea and Tanielu Lotovaivai were young men going places.

Described as affable, ambitious and hard-working, both had bright futures ahead of them, their families and friends said.

Lotovaivai’s decision to point what he thought was an unloaded gun at Bea and pull the trigger ended all that.

Bea, 17, died after being shot in the chest. Lotovaivai was arrested and earlier this year pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter.

On Friday, all the pain and misery that decision spawned came to a head in Pierce County Superior Court, where Lotovaivai was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Tears flowed freely on both sides of the gallery.

“It just hurts, and it never gets better,” Bea’s sister, Ambrea Bea, told Judge Edmund Murphy.

The shooting took place Oct. 11 at South 43rd and G streets. 

Lotovaiva, 20, passed around his .38-caliber revolver to a group of friends before taking it back. He told police he thought he’d unloaded it when he pointed it at Bea and pulled the trigger, court records show, but he apparently missed on cartridge. The gun discharged, and Bea, who his mother called “my hero, my prince” was gone.

The shot cut down a boy on the verge of manhood, who planned to apply to the Naval Academy, who made everyone laugh and brought a sparkle to the lives of those who knew him, his mother, Jackie Bea, and father, Ramon Bea Jr., said.

“He was full of love,” his father said.

The Bea family again voiced its displeasure at the charging decision made by prosecutors. They petitioned for upgraded charges while Lotovaivai awaited trial.

“He should be facing a murder charge,” Ramon Bea Sr. said.

And they were not in a mood to forgive Lotovaivai.

“We are here today because of one person’s actions. We are here today because of one person’s free will and choice to point a loaded gun at another human being and purposely pull the trigger, knowing what the outcome could mean,” Jackie Bea said. “We are here today because of one person’s selfishness and disregard for life and God’s commandments, which include love thy neighbor.”

Lotovaivai had his supporters, too.

An uncle and two members of his church spoke on his behalf, calling him a respectful young man who looked after his four brothers and was always there to lend a hand to those in need.

They apologized to Bea’s relatives and said they were praying for them.

Lotovaivai then was given the floor.

He first asked God’s forgiveness.

“I pray that he will forgive me for my sins and bless Jalon as he sits in heaven,” Lotovaivai said.

He then apologized to Bea’s family, saying, “I had no intention to cause your son’s death.”

Lotovaivai finally addressed Murphy, saying he intended to come out of prison a better man.

“When you hear my name again, it will be for good things,” he said.

Murphy took a moment to consider all he’d heard and weigh the sentencing recommendation put forth by deputy prosecutor Hugh Birgenheier and defense attorney Mary Opgenorth: eight years, six months.

Then he bumped it up by 18 months.

“Nothing good comes out of situations like this,” Murphy said. 

The judge then encourage Bea's family to continue its efforts to educate people about gun violence.

"The message I would send to the Bea family is to take this pain that you have and focus it into continuing the work that you've done to shed some light on what happened here, trying to get the message out to people that you've got to be careful with guns, you've got to stay away from guns," Murphy said.




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