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Kiesle begins prison sentence for killing fellow resident in 2022 DUI crash

Widow of Curtis Gunn addresses court at sentencing of defrocked priest

By Sam Richards

Staff writer

(Friday, Dec. 8): MARTINEZ – Saying that he took two lives, and not just one, on April 16, 2022, Contra Costa Superior Court Judge Jennifer Lee on Friday formally handed Stephen Miller Kiesle a six-year, eight-month prison term for striking and killing fellow Rossmoor resident Curtis Gunn while driving drunk.

Lee said just before formally sentencing the 76-year-old that while Curtis Gunn was killed, his wife, Laurelyn, also lost her life as she had previously known it.

“This was not an accident,” Lee said of Kiesle’s decision to drive following a trivia night gathering at Gateway where he had been drinking.

The 2012 Lexus SUV driven by Kiesle was headed south on Tice Creek when it jumped the curb and struck both Gunns, who had attended the same trivia event.

On Friday, Kielse pleaded no contest to one count of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and two enhanced counts of driving under the influence of alcohol. The pleas made formal an agreement reached in October by Michael Markowitz, Kiesle’s attorney, and Deputy Contra Costa County District Attorney Victor Mendoza, the prosecutor in the case.

The enhancements to the DUI counts stem from prior felony convictions for Kiesle, a defrocked Catholic priest who in 2004 was sentenced to six years in prison on child-molestation charges out of Nevada County. Kiesle faced child sexual abuse allegations while serving as a priest in the Diocese of Oakland in the 1970s and 1980s. He was removed as a clergy member in 1987.

Kiesle, wearing a red polo shirt, black pants and a blue jacket, was also clutching a crammed-full blue John Muir Health tote bag. Immediately after sentencing, a Sheriff’s deputy put Kiesle in cuffs, which included a chain wrapped around his back. He was then led out a side door into custody, and is headed to a state prison.

Laurelyn Gunn was the third of three people who offered victim statements to the court Friday. In a clear but at times shaky voice, fighting back tears, with Mendoza holding a microphone for her, she read from a prepared statement from her younger sister, and then spoke on her own behalf. She said that since her husband was killed, her life has been “a nightmare that will never truly end.”

Laurelyn Gunn told the court that on the night of April 16, 2022, she and Curtis were walking home together along Tice Creek Drive – her right hand in Curtis’ left – when they heard a strange noise coming from behind and growing louder. “It was like a surreal moment in a science fiction movie,” Laurelyn said.

Curtis ended up in the street, and Laurelyn was on her hands and knees – “my palms looked like raw hamburger” – and her knees were bleeding through her pants. She scrambled over to her husband, whose body was clearly broken. She said she believes “he was gone” by the time she reached him.

A friend, Myra Swallow, hung her cane from the lectern as she told the court that both Curtis and Laurelyn had lost partners to illnesses before meeting each other, and that they were the “pay it forward” kind of people.

Curtis had installed her TV at home and had done her 2022 taxes; she, in turn, cooked meals for the Gunns.

“I miss his corny jokes, and his ability to reduce my anxiety by making corny jokes,” said Swallow, one of about 10 family members and friends present Friday to support Laurelyn Gunn.

Curtis Gunn’s brother Alan Gunn, who lives in Oregon, spoke without notes about how he envisioned reconnecting with his brother after their recent retirements. They were planning to go on hikes, and to play golf.

“I’m trying not to be bitter about this,” Alan Gunn said. “I hope Mr. Kiesle understands … what he has taken from us.”

Laurelyn said that in addition to the seemingly endless legal affairs his death brought, she sold their home and moved into another Rossmoor home. She said she is scared to be around motor vehicles, and avoids being anywhere near the accident scene, or walking on a sidewalk along a street, for that matter.

She lost her best friend, pickleball partner and financial adviser – she and Curt played practical jokes on one another, and read books and discussed them. The couple was supposed to have gone to China a couple of years earlier, she said, but the COVID-19 pandemic put that on hold.

During most of Friday’s hearing, Kiesle sat staring straight ahead from his seat while the impact statements were being made.

Given the chance to speak himself just before the formal sentencing, Kiesle told the court he didn’t know Curtis Gunn well but knew that he was beloved in the community. He said he had played pickleball with him, and faced off against him in trivia. He said he didn’t consciously mean to drive while drunk, and that after the accident has basically “lived a hermit’s life.”

“I also have not had a good night of sleep since then,” Kiesle said.

Kiesle’s plight didn’t seem to generate much sympathy. “Today, (Kiesle) has chosen his prison term,” Laurelyn said. “And I am serving a life sentence with no chance of parole.”