Driver in artist’s death sentenced to 10 years |

Driver in artist’s death sentenced to 10 years

by Sheila Gardner

Jim Grant photosJon Eugene McElhaney is led out of the courtroom after being sentenced to prison on Tuesday morning.

The driver responsible for the traffic death of Smith Valley artist Reiko Hervin was sentenced Tuesday to up to 10 years in Nevada State Prison following an emotional, hour-long hearing before District Judge Dave Gamble.

Jon Eugene McElhaney, 35, of Gardnerville, must serve a minimum of three years in Nevada State Prison before he is eligible for parole.

He pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of an intoxicating liquor resulting in death or substantial bodily harm in the Nov. 6 accident that claimed Hervin’s life three weeks later.

“There is no justice fully exercisable by man – and certainly not by me – to create a recompense for a loss such as your wife and mother,” Gamble told Hervin’s husband Kurt and son Hiroki.

“I have never seen a case like this where there was full closure for the victim’s family. The loss you suffered – certainly because of her talent and beauty – is more than that. She was your life. It can only be fixed by you and your son living your lives well and honoring her memory, which you are doing. The only closure is to know there is no closure.”

The Hervins displayed a self-portrait of the 51-year-old artist and a painting of iris which won an international prize the week after she died.

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“Let me introduce you to my wife, Reiko,” Kurt Hervin said as he addressed Gamble about the impact of his wife’s death. “She was not an ordinary person, she was an angel to me.”

He said his wife was loved in the Northern Nevada community as an artist, art teacher and community volunteer.

“Everyone who met her liked her,” he said. “She never said a bad thing about anybody.”

Hervin said he kissed his wife on the cheek as she left her Smith Valley home Nov. 6 to pick up paintings from an art show at the CVIC Hall in Minden and to do some shopping at Walmart in north Douglas County.

She was killed on her way home when a trailer McElhaney was using to tow a disabled Jeep broke away from his vehicle and collided on Highway 208 at Jack Wright pass into Hervin’s oncoming car.

Hervin described how he frantically started calling friends and the sheriff’s office when his wife didn’t return home.

He was called late that night by a nurse at Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno, and urged to get to the hospital.

Hervin detailed her injuries which included broken legs, shattered arms, broken ribs, badly damaged liver and heart and collapsed lung.

“For 3-1/2 weeks, she was fighting for her life. She couldn’t talk, she was on life support and had apparatus all over her,” Hervin said.

Finally, he said, Hervin’s doctor advised him and his son Hiroki that Reiko’s quality of life was so diminished, they should consider removing her from life support.

“It was the hardest decision I ever had to make,” he said. “Hiroki and I went back to her room. We held Reiko in our arms and told her good-bye.”

She died on Nov. 30.

Hervin urged Gamble to sentence McElhaney to the maximum 20 years.

“He (McElhaney) destroyed so many lives, there is no place I can go where there isn’t a memory of Reiko,” he said.

He said their son dropped out of college following her death and lost his scholarship. Hervin is using his retirement fund to pay for school.

The Hervins took part ofReiko’s remains to Japan where they were interred on a mountainside in a family crypt.

“Her family is completely devastated,” Hervin said.

The court file contained letters in Japanese with English translation as Reiko’s family and friends talked about the impact of her death.

Saying “there is no price I can put on my wife,” Hervin asked for $30,000 restitution to cover expenses and pay for counseling, adding that his son needed his mother.

Hiroki Hervin said Reiko was his mother, mentor and friend.

“All the suffering she went through, we went through with her,” he said, asking for the maximum sentence.

McElhaney sobbed as he apologized to the Hervins.

“I am so sorry for your loss. I pray every day for her and for your family. I know you’re going to hate me, but I hope some day I can be forgiven,” McElhaney said.

In determining the sentence, Gamble said he took into consideration that McElhaney had no prior record or indication of alcohol abuse. McElhaney had a .131 percent blood alcohol content.

The defense recommended McElhaney be sentenced to 2-5 years, and the prosecution 3-8 years.

“What I have tried to do is create a sentence with a long period of supervision. Even though the Legislature has given me a broad range (in sentencing), they have not given me a tool to make you feel better,” he told the Hervins. “I hope his (McElhaney’s) words to you a few moments ago are more beneficial than a prison sentence.”

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