Woman sentenced to two years jail for fatal crash that killed four
CHIPPEWA FALLS — An Eau Claire woman who missed a stop sign and crashed her car in May 2017, killing three passengers in her vehicle and a woman in another vehicle, was sentenced Friday to serve two years in the county jail.
Cara Stevens, 25, 1802 Ball St., Eau Claire, pleaded no contest in Chippewa County Court in January to homicide by negligent operation of a motor vehicle and reckless driving-causing great bodily harm.
The crash occurred in the northeast corner of Chippewa County, killing Raven Ellin, 21, Jonathan Jorgensen, 35, and Mikaila Toske, 23, in Stevens’ car, along with Kristine Kummer, 46, who was in another vehicle.
Judge Steve Cray said because people use automobiles every day, they can forget they are dangerous weapon.
"They must use it with a great deal of caution," Cray said.
Ultimately, Cray said he couldn't reconcile the fact that Stevens missed several traffic signs before driving through the stop sign. However, he couldn't find a reason to give Stevens a prison sentence.
Stevens will have Huber work release privileges, and she is not eligible for electronic monitoring. Her driver's license will be revoked for one year. She must report to jail by Sunday.
Stevens apologized to the victims' families prior to the sentencing.
"I don't know how I'll ever find enough words to say how sorry I am," she said.
Several of the victims' family members spoke during the hearing, describing the loss caused by the crash that day.
Shannon Young, Toske's mother, described the crash as an accident, and said Stevens doesn't deserve to be incarcerated.
"I know how difficult and hard this is for all of you," Young said as she turned to Kummer's family. "There is nobody that is standing up with a voice of reason in all of this. I lost my only daughter that day. I understand how trying and difficult this is. But this was a tragic accident. A stop sign was innocently missed. But two drivers were violating traffic laws that day. But it was just an accident."
Young said it is insulting the case has focused on the death and loss for the Kummer family, and the other three families who lost loved ones have been ignored.
"There was no exhibition driving. There was no ill-intent," Young said. "No one was on their cell phone. To signal Cara out, is just one more injustice."
Young said she is grateful that her daughter was with her boyfriend and best friend at the time of the crash.
Kriste Niznik, one of Kummer's friends, said she was at the scene moments after the crash occurred.
"I want you to know what I had to go through that day, watching my best friend pass away in front of me," Niznik told Cray.
The Kummers drive race cars, and were on their way to Rice Lake for an event. She described coming across the crash, and trying unsuccessfully to help Kummer.
"I believe Cara should get five years in prison for what she has done to Kris and Kris' family," Niznik said. She described it as "one thoughtless act" that led to the death of four people. "We lost a great part of our family that day."
Laykn Kummer, Kristine Kummer's daughter, said the death and loss of her mother is still as fresh and hurtful today as the day of the crash nearly two years ago.
"I lost everything that day, all because she blew a stop sign," Laykn Kummer said.
Maureen McIlligott, Ellin's grandmother, said that Stevens missed four traffic signs, not just one stop sign. McIlligott said the crash tore her family apart.
"You've got to keep your eyes on the road," she said. "It doesn't matter if you're a brand-new driver or 60 years old."
Gabrielle Hodges, Ellin's sister, said that Stevens showed remorse at her sister's family. Stevens attended Ellin's funeral.
"She said she never meant for anything to happen," Hodges said. "No amount of punishment is going to bring my sister back."
District attorney Wade Newell recommended that Stevens be placed in prison for two years along with three years of extended supervision, plus one year in jail.
"No one is saying this is an intentional homicide; no one is saying this is a reckless homicide," Newell told Cray. "She is here for a homicide by criminal negligence."
Newell said a traffic reconstruction report indicates that Stevens might have had her eyes off the road for eight seconds. He reiterated there were numerous traffic signs that Stevens missed.
"It's the totality of the circumstances," Newell said. "You have to decide what is reasonable. She closed her attention to what was going on around her."
He added that his recommendation factors in the totality of the harm caused.
Stevens’ attorney, Rich White, said the case is "tragic beyond comprehension," but reiterated that this was an accident. He admits he has ran a stop sign before, and it was just sheer luck that he didn't cause a crash. He reminded Cray that there was no drug or alcohol use, no texting, and no exhibition driving. Stevens also has no prior criminal record.
"Cara is overwhelmed by this. The tragedy caused to everyone has not been lost on her," White said. "In her mind, she knows she bares responsibility."
Cray said a reasonable period of probation and jail time is a better outcome than a prison sentence.
About 60 people packed Cray’s courtroom, including several from Kummer’s family, who all wore identical black race shirts with her name on the front, and reading “In loving memory of mom” on the back.
According to the criminal complaint:
Stevens was northbound on Highway G in the town of Ruby when the crash occurred at 5:02 p.m. May 27, 2017.
Stevens’ Chrysler Pacifica crashed with a westbound Chevrolet Silverado at the intersection of Highway G and Highway 64, halfway between Cornell and Gilman. The Wisconsin State Patrol responded to the crash and handled the investigation.
“Ms. Stevens failed to stop for the stop sign,” the report states. The vehicles collided, entered the ditch, and began to roll.
The driver of the Silverado was David Kummer. Along with the death of Kristine Kummer, other passengers in the vehicle suffered serious injuries. Nicole Ronni suffered a compression fracture, a clavicle fracture, cracked ribs and a punctured lung. Cody Kummer suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery. Two others had minor injuries.
Stevens was taken to HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire. An officer interviewed her there, and Stevens said she and her friends were headed to a rural bar, but she hadn’t been there before. Stevens said she had passed an Amish buggy, and looked at it in her rear-view mirror. When she “looked up,” the Silverado was in front of her, and the vehicles collided.
Blood samples were taken from both Stevens and David Kummer. Kummer had no alcohol or restricted controlled substances in his system; Stevens had morphine and Midazolam in her system, but those were drugs administered to her at the hospital.
“Driver impairment does not appear to be a factor in this crash,” the report states.
After examining the scene, the officer determined that Stevens didn’t attempt to stop before the crash, noting the tire mark “does not appear until after entering the intersection.”
“While the exact reasons for Ms. Stevens’ inattention are not known, it is likely her attention was not focused to the approaching intersection and stop sign,” the criminal complaint concludes.
The criminal complaint doesn't indicate any cell phone use by either driver while driving.