During the long trip to Pakistan, where he would deliver the news to family that his son had been killed by a drunk driver, Basharat Mahmood turned to pen and paper.
"A letter from a father to his late son," Mahmood began. He wrote about the flight that he and Danyal Mahmood had taken together in 1999, when they came to the United States. He remembered his son's great promise.
"Danyal, the loneliness is haunting me on this crowded flight. The only company I have is your soul, which is right next to me on this journey," Mahmood wrote. "I have never imagined death as seriously as I do now. In fact I am looking forward to it. It will give me the opportunity to see you and to hug you."
Mahmood signed off as the "unlucky father."
A Loudoun prosecutor last week repeated Mahmood's words in court to Loudoun County Circuit Judge James H. Chamblin, who sentenced the driver who caused the accident that killed Danyal Mahmood, 20, and his friend, Geraldine Daysi Alconini Mendoza, 23, to 22 years in prison.
Sohan Lal Banga, 25, of Herndon had a blood alcohol level more than twice Virginia's legal limit when he ran a red light and smashed into the couple's car March 12, prosecutors said. In August, Banga pleaded guilty to two counts of involuntary manslaughter, drunken driving and driving with a suspended license.
"Mr. Mahmood was the unlucky father, but anyone could have been the unlucky father or mother or victim," Loudoun County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert D. Anderson (R) said in court.
Banga, who initially used the false name Palvinder S. Randhawa, had twice been convicted of drunken driving in Fairfax County, according to court records. He also has a criminal record, including an assault conviction, in Britain, prosecutors said.
During the Thursday sentencing hearing, Banga apologized to the victim's families, reading from a statement he wrote in jail.
"I run from reality and my problems . . . not knowing that one day hiding behind the bottle was going to take the lives of two innocent people," Banga said. "I put a blank space in people's lives. . . . There is no excuse for what I did."
Mendoza, a hairdresser who had moved to the United States from Bolivia, lived in Arlington and had been studying to take the GED test.
Mahmood of Herndon was an intern at a computer company and planned to return to community college.
Sheriff's officials said Banga was driving a red 1990 Plymouth north on Route 28 in Sterling about 11 p.m. March 12 when he drove through a red light at Old Ox Road and, without braking, struck Mahmood's 1995 Honda. Mendoza died at the scene, and Mahmood died later at an area hospital, prosecutors said.
According to records in Fairfax County General District Court, Banga's first alcohol-related offense occurred Aug. 25, 2001, when he was charged with driving while intoxicated. Banga was then found guilty in December 2001.
He was arrested again for drunken driving Dec. 28, 2001, and convicted two months later, according to court records.
Chamblin said in court that he imposed a harsh sentence to send a message to would-be drunk drivers.
"You're running from reality, but reality's here today," Chamblin said. "I can't help but think, is that remorse genuine or is it remorse because it finally caught up with you?"