A man who fatally stabbed another man in downtown San Diego during a road rage incident last year was sentenced Monday to 16 years to life in state prison.
Byron Lee, 35, was found guilty by a San Diego jury of second-degree murder, plus a knife charge, in the June 26, 2021, slaying of 34-year-old Yacoub Abdallah. Abdallah, a resident of Midlothian, Illinois, was in San Diego on vacation, according to his family.
Police said they initially received calls just before 3 p.m. that day about a traffic accident at 900 First Ave., where Abdallah was found with “trauma to the upper body.”
A tourist was killed in the incident on Saturday, the latest in a string of accidents on the road, NBC 7’s Allison Ash reports.
He was taken to the hospital, where he died. Testimony at Lee’s trial indicated that Abdallah had been stabbed in the chest, the fatal wound piercing his heart.
A subsequent police investigation revealed that prior to the crash, Lee and Abdallah had been involved in a traffic dispute a few blocks away in the 300 block of Market Street, according to Lt. Andra Brown of the San Diego Police Department. The two drivers were stopped at a traffic light at 3rd Avenue and Market Street when Lee got out of his car and began punching Abdallah while he was in the driver’s seat, police said in June. Abdallah got out and the two fought, then got back into their car and headed in different directions.
Abdallah later realized he was injured, lost consciousness while behind the wheel and crashed into a light pole, a tree and a power box on First Avenue.
Efforts to save Abdallah’s life were unsuccessful. His girlfriend suffered minor injuries in the crash, as did a 14-year-old girl who was walking nearby and was hit by flying debris.
Lee was arrested last September in a city in San Bernardino County, Ontario.
At Lee’s sentencing hearing, Deputy District Attorney Christina Eastman described the defendant as “a person who took someone’s life because of a minor driving mistake.”
Lee made a statement before the sentencing, in which he told Abdallah’s family he was “terribly sorry that this happened.”
“I also went to let them know that I really did not intend to take his life,” Lee said. “I absolutely did not mean to do that. It was not my intention and for that I am absolutely sorry. I pray for their forgiveness.”
During the investigation, officers determined that the incident originally started a few blocks away due to a traffic dispute. NBC 7’s Omari Fleming has more.
San Diego Superior Court Judge Steven E. Stone denied a defense request for a reduced sentence on the grounds that Abdallah may have been the aggressor or had some culpability for the incident. The judge said he “in no way” believed the evidence he heard at trial supported that claim.
“The victim in this case did absolutely nothing wrong,” Stone said. “This was completely senseless. There was no reason for it. It should never have happened. There was no justification for it. And to say that in any way Yacoub is responsible is just wrong.”
Although 16 years to life was the maximum sentence Stone could have imposed for the second-degree murder conviction, he told Abdallah’s family, “It’s more than justified” and “If I could impose a longer sentence, I would.”
The apparent road rage incident was just one of three in the San Diego area around the same time. In one, a driver had two bullets fired into his car while driving on I-15 while crossing onto State Route 56 on Friday. The man was shaken, but not injured. The CHP is still searching for the gunman, who sped away in a silver or gray van.
After learning about the incidents, some local drivers told NBC7 they’ve noticed a lot of angry, impatient people on the roads lately.
“People are so short-lived now,” said Valerie Hoffman, who lives in North Park. “I mean, really, shooting someone because of some stupid thing that happened on the road? Seriously, it’s horrible and terrifying.”
Tashi Shertso is retired, so she doesn’t drive as much, but she told us she has a lot of anger and frustration after the pandemic.
“The socialization skills haven’t come back yet,” Shertso said. “We are still getting used to being able to leave the house without masks and socializing. I hope all those good manners start to come back.”
Bella Wang said that people need to understand that the road belongs to everyone. She tries to be patient with other drivers by getting out of their way when they get aggressive.
“We just have to be aware of our surroundings whenever we go anywhere now,” Wang said. “It’s a bit of an accident.”