Friends mourn man police say was killed by a drunk driver

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) - News that 35-year-old Serjei Cahuantzi was killed in a car accident at the hands of an alleged drunk driver has one restaurant community in mourning.

"Serjei was always just inspirational. I mean he was always smiling," said Jody Wright, manager of Joe Pasta restaurant, as she remembered the man who worked for her.

"This was his block," said Wright. "He worked for Joe Pasta, he worked for Rue de Jean. This is where he chose to be when he was out or working. He was part of the whole food and beverage family. He was thoughtful. He was such a family man. I mean, he loved his family."

Police say Cahuantzi was thrown from his car on I-526 Sunday after 24-year old Lisa Pistolis drifted off the highway into the median. Police say she over-corrected and caused Cahuantzi's vehicle to flip.

Pistolis has been charges with felony DUI with death and felony DUI with great bodily injury. Police also say this is her second DUI charge in 12 months.

"I was just in such disbelief that he was gone because it was actually the owner of Joe Pasta that called me and told me and he was so upset," said Wright.

Wright says his spirit will be sorely missed in the downtown area.

"I can't even think what it's going to be like to never see that smiling face walk around the corner here and wave to us again. He will be missed," said Wright.

It's a story that's all too familiar to{} Shelly Booher.

"In 1996, my 16-month-old daughter at the time was injured by a drunk driver in the state of Ohio. And, she was actually injured by a five-time offender," said Booher.

Because of her experience, Booher is an advocate for tougher DUI penalties.

"I think a good example would be, like if you punish a child. The lesser punishment you give them for doing something, they may tend to do it again. But, if you give them a stricter punishment they may think about it and not do it a second time," she said.

Booher believes Sunday's accident could have been prevented.

"My whole concept is the state of South Carolina needs to toughen their laws for first time offenders. Had she been given a stricter offense or jail time or been forced to take the breathalyzer test it's possible that she wouldn't have been on the road the second time," Booher said.

Pistolis' bond was set at $73,000.