Teen driver sentenced in Genoa death
Following dramatic testimony Monday from family members of a teen-age boy who died last June while riding in a car, a judge placed the car’s driver, Angela Steichen, on informal probation.
Steichen, now 17, of Carson City was fined $900, which is payable to Joshua Spuehler’s mother, and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service.
Also, four demerits were placed on her driving record because of the fatal Genoa Lane crash, and her license is restricted for the length of the probation period.
It is unclear how long Steichen’s license will be restricted because the probation was not set for a definite length of time.
Gibbons said Steichen had no offenses before the accident.
Steichen admitted in December to failing to maintain her lane, which caused the crash. The girl’s car slammed into an oncoming Dodge Durango the morning of June 2. Spuehler, 16, died at the scene.
The four teens involved in the crash were Chatauquan singers who had just performed during Genoa’s sesquicentennial celebration.
The hearing took place in front of nine members of Spuehler’s family and friends wearing T-shirts with a picture of the boy smiling beneath blue letters that read “Lost to Us” with the fatal accident’s date beneath the photo.
After court Monday, John Spuehler, the dead boy’s father, who was not wearing such a T-shirt, said Gibbons made the right decision.
During testimony, Spuehler said his 11-year-old daughter Natasha has seizures as a result of her older brother’s death.
Also, numerous teens in Carson City and Dayton were affected by his son’s death, Spuehler said.
“A lot of young people will never be the same,” he said. An estimated 1,300 people attended a memorial service for Spuehler in June.
Spuehler’s father said now is the time for “grace and mercy” toward Steichen.
“There’s been enough pain and suffering since June 2,” he testified. “There’s enough hatred and anger that’s gone on. It’s time to lay that to rest.
“The greatest effect it’s had on me is that I’ll never be able to talk to my son again or hold him again,” Spuehler said.
While placing Steichen on informal probation, Gibbons told the former straight-A student, who he said dropped out of Carson High because other students called her a murderer, that now she has to live for two people.
During a statement, Steichen told Gibbons she is truly sorry for the accident.
Also, Gibbons said Steichen wrote a letter, in which she offered to take her own life if it would make Spuehler’s family feel better.
The judge said that during his 21 years of practicing law, no one had said they would give up their life immediately if it would help the victim’s family.
“I loved Josh so much,” Steichen said while crying. “He was such a close friend. I know what it is to miss him.”
Gibbons echoed prosecutor Jennifer Yturbide’s earlier remarks that she needs to give back to the community and be a productive citizen.
“The best thing you can do is not give up your life,” Gibbons said. “Honor his memory. Live two lives and make a real difference.”
Steichen is “not the normal person who appears in this court at all,” Gibbons said. “We need to keep her on that path.
“It was definitely wrong. She should have been more careful. It’ll be 10 more years before the pain lessens (for the family),” Gibbons said.
Alexandra Becker, 17, a passenger in Steichen’s car, spent three and a half months wearing a neck brace because of injuries sustained during the crash.
Becker said Steichen turned around and was talking to herself and another girl in the backseat immediately before the wreck.
The two girls screamed as Steichen swerved right while heading east on Genoa Lane. Steichen overcorrected and swerved into oncoming traffic.
Becker said she is unsure if she will make a complete recovery from her injuries.
Becker said Steichen’s license should be suspended, but not for an extreme amount of time.
“Whatever she’s going through is probably enough, because she loved Josh just as much as I did,” Becker said. As she looked at Steichen, they both began sobbing.
“It was just four teens in a car,” she said.
Becker’s father Peter told Gibbons that doctors have said his daughter will not completely recover from the injuries and she can no longer participate in activities such as horseback riding, where there is a chance she could fall.
Spuehler’s mother Johnnie testified about her suffering since the accident.
“I don’t hate you, Angela,” she said. “I don’t hate you at all.
“I wish I could have been in that car. I envy you because you were with him the last few minutes” of his life.
Spuehler said after her son’s death she couldn’t work or sleep and was suicidal.
“All I would do was just lie there and hope to die,” she said. “When I drive, I see Josh lying there in the middle of the road.”
As she was testifying, a row of Spuehler’s friends and family began crying audibly.
“My life has fallen apart completely,” she said. “I hope Angela realizes that it only takes a split second to take a life.
“I would like my children to have a normal life again but I don’t know when that will happen.”
A psychologist testified about Steichen’s counseling, which began in July 2001, during a 30-minute closed portion of the hearing. Spuehler and Steichen’s parents were allowed to remain for the hearing.
Spuehler’s cousin Kelsee McQuary said since the accident she’s contemplated swerving into oncoming traffic because of depression.
McQuary said she thinks Steichen doesn’t want to take responsibility.
“Every day I wake up feeling guilty because I never got to say goodbye,” she said. “I miss him so much.”
In his closing statement, Steichen’s attorney, Michael Roeser, said it angers him that Steichen is called a “murderer” in high school.
“Because of one second, her life changed and her best friend is dead,” he said. “Taking away her license won’t make a whit of difference.”
Both Roeser and Yturbide blamed the crash largely on Steichen’s inexperience as a driver. Steichen became a licensed driver about two and a half months before the crash.