ST. GEORGE – A woman accused of causing the death of one person and severely injuring another in an alleged texting-and-driving incident in 2013 pleaded no contest in court Monday afternoon.
Carla Lynn Brennan, 52, arrived in 5th District Court shortly after 1 p.m. in the courtroom of Judge G. Michael Westfall. Once there, she joined attorney Edward Flint at a table and he went over the terms of a plea deal. Brennan was quiet and emotional as she reviewed the plea agreement with Flint. More then once she reached for nearby tissues on the table while crying.
The fatal crash
On the morning of March 4, 2013, Brennan was late to work and speeding down Dixie Drive from her home in the Dixie Downs area, Flint said. Was she driving distracted? Yes, Flint said, but distracted by the fact she was late for work and not because she was texting on a phone as the prosecution alleges.
According to the defense’s evidence, Brennan had sent a text message from her phone just two minutes prior to the fatal accident that took place on Dixie Drive.
While Brennan was driving an estimated 63 mph down Dixie Drive – which has a posted 40 mph speed limit – David and Leslee Henson were taking a morning walk across the bridge that crosses the Santa Clara River near the Sunbrook golf course. Brennan did not notice the vehicle in front of her in time, driven by Frederick Konrath, and rear-ended him. The impact sent Konrath’s vehicle onto the sidewalk where it hit the Hensons.
David Henson was killed while Leslee Henson was left with severe injuries that she has since recovered from.
In the wake of the tragic event, the Henson family started an anti-texting while driving initiative that ultimately went statewide and led to the passage of a strict anti-texting/distracted driving law that took effect in 2014.
A witness told police he believed he saw Brennan texting on her phone prior to the crash, which led to her being charged with second-degree felony automobile homicide, which carries a zero-to-15 year prison term. Brennan has maintained throughout the unfolding investigation and court process that she was not texting.
“She’s adamant she was not texting and driving,” Flint said.
The plea agreement
Brennan nonetheless acknowledges the state possibly has enough evidence to convict her if the case went to trial, Flint said, so she went with the no contest plea.
Brennan pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of negligent automobile homicide, a third-degree felony.
The state agreed not the recommend prison, and under a state law, Westfall agreed to give Brennan probation, which will likely be for a period of 36 months.
A pre-sentencing investigation will be conducted by the office of Adult Probation and Parole, with sentencing recommendations to be made at a sentencing hearing set for Sept. 2.
Brennan will also pay restitution in the amount of $216,000. That amount derives from a default judgment in a lawsuit filed against Brennan by the Henson’s insurance company. Brennan was not insured at the time of the crash.
While Flint said he wants to keep his client out of jail as much as possible, he expects Brennan to serve some time regardless.
“We know she’s going to do jail time,” Flint said. “We just want to make sure it’s reasonable.”
Flint wants Brennan to be able to keep her job and residence on the Arizona Strip and is hoping whatever sentencing she receives will allow that.
“She’s just a human being who made a really bad mistake,” Flint said.
Leslee Henson, who sat in on previous court hearings, was not present at the hearing Monday. However, Washington County Deputy Attorney Zachary Weiland told the court he had been in contact with her, and that she agreed with the plea agreement.
“Miss Henson and I feel this is a very good resolution,” Weiland said, adding her involvement was critical in resolving the case.
Though derived from a horribly tragic event, Flint said, the no contest plea works to the advantage of the parties involved.
For Brennan, the plea agreement allows her to maintain she wasn’t texting while also removing the possibility of prison, which made it “more workable,” Flint said.
The no contest plea also keeps the door open for a lawsuit Leslee Henson filed earlier this year against Konrath and the car dealer that sold Brennan her car.
If Brennan had pleaded guilty, she would have assumed all the blame for the incident and closed the door on any measure of liability for the accident the civil suit claims Konrath and the car dealer have in the case.
“It really works out better for everyone,” Flint said.
- Motion to delay trial denied; Brennan texting-driving homicide case moves forward
- Tighter restrictions on distracted driving go into effect at midnight
- Police use photos of drivers as part of anti-texting campaign
- St. George woman pleads not guilty to auto homicide
- City launches massive campaign against distracted driving
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