Drinda Jane Atnes, promising to "never drive again," eluded jail Wednesday when she was sentenced for plowing into a group of high school runners and killing a 15-year-old boy.
The sentencing closes a chapter in the tragic life of the former Utah resident who openly admitted she was under the influence of prescription medication when her car veered off the road and into the pack of runners, who were jogging on the shoulder.She began taking the medicine after she was beaten with a hammer and buried alive in Utah more than 25 years ago. She had undergone surgery for a brain tumor shortly before the accident.
Although Atnes, 44, was sentenced to six months in jail on a charge of vehicular manslaughter, she may never be incarcerated. Superior Court Judge John A. Flaherty allowed her instead to enter the county's electronic monitoring program.
Relatives and friends of the students who were struck by Atnes' car were upset by the sentencing, charging that she received only a "slap on the wrist" for killing one youth and seriously injuring two others as they jogged along Ocala Avenue last year.
As the mother of the dead boy sobbed in court, Flaherty called the incident "one of the greatest tragedies I've ever been a part of."
The judge also sentenced Atnes to pay restitution to the victims, undergo psychological counseling, serve 400 hours of community service and pay $590 in fines. He noted that there are civil lawsuits pending.
While she will stay out of jail, Atnes will be constantly monitored with an ankle or wrist bracelet and, in essence, will be under house arrest for the six months.
Flaherty said he wished he could ensure that Atnes would never drive again. Under the law, he said, he could only suspend her license for the term of her probation, which he set at three years.
"I don't know what to say, really," the small woman, wearing a lavender dress, told the judge. "I hurt many people. I feel totally helpless. I wish this had never happened."
In June, Atnes pleaded no contest to a felony charge of vehicular manslaughter, to driving under the influence of drugs and to injuring two youths.
The accident caused a public outcry in the Overfelt community, with many parents rallying to follow the case out of concern that authorities might be too lenient on Atnes because of her difficult past.
Prosecutor Margo Smith said she was satisfied with the sentence.
"There aren't many times when the prosecution and defense both feel that justice was done," Smith said. "I think this was one case where both did feel that justice was done."