MARTINEZ -- In a courtroom packed with family members from opposite sides of a tragedy, a Walnut Creek man was sentenced Wednesday to two years in jail for killing a Danville mother and daughter in an auto collision.

John Peder Harris, 33, was sentenced after pleading guilty to two counts of involuntary manslaughter in the Nov. 7, 2011, deaths of 51-year-old Elham "Ellie" Pirdavari and her 72-year-old mother, Mahindokht Dowlati.

The women were killed when Harris, a chess coach, sped through a red light at the intersection of Brookside Drive and Sycamore Valley Road in Danville and broadsided the women's SUV. He was traveling 62 mph in a 45 mph zone.

Many people in the courtroom cried as the victims' family played a video of portions of the funeral for the mother and daughter, described as leaders in their households and "examples of love and compassion" in the community.

"We have been robbed of a lifetime of milestones and memories," said Shadeh Ghezavat, Pirdavari's daughter and Dowlati's granddaughter. "Now we are left to live this nightmare, to bear this pain every day of our lives. We are all struggling."

Harris thanked the family for playing the video and said he hopes that one day they will forgive him and that he will forgive himself.

"Feelings of sorrow and remorse burst forth whenever I think of my actions on Nov. 7, 2011," Harris said, wiping his tears. "I'm deeply sorry for the pain and loss that I have caused."


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Harris was offered a plea deal because the Contra Costa District Attorney's Office thought it would be difficult to prove its theory that Harris knew that he shouldn't be driving because of his seizure disorder and that he was having a seizure when he ran a red light, deputy district attorney Alison Chandler told a judge.

Harris is prone to seizures because of multiple concussions suffered while playing football at Campolindo High School in Moraga and in college, Dan O'Malley, Harris' attorney, said, and he recalled experiencing precursor symptoms of a seizure that day.

Danville police Chief Steve Simpkins was among the nearly 60 people who attended the sentencing.

"In my line of work, there are a few cases that will really touch you," Simpkins said. "This is one of those cases. It's obvious how strong this family is, and that's an impressive thing."

Under the plea deal, Harris is required to spend at least one year in custody at the County Jail in Martinez. He was free on a $100,000 bond before he was handcuffed and taken into the custody of the Sheriff's Office on Wednesday.

The family of the victims left the hearing and went straight to Oakmont Memorial Park in Lafayette, where mother and daughter are buried side by side.

Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684. Follow her at Twitter.com/malaikafraley.