Judge refuses to impose minimal jail time in sentencing of man responsible for life-altering DUI crash

ST. GEORGE — A Hurricane man convicted of fleeing from a crash that left a driver injured and unconscious was sentenced to a year in jail during a court hearing Thursday.

Thomas Michael Urda, 58, of Hurricane, booking photo posted in Washington County, Utah, Sept. 11, 2019 | File photo courtesy of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, St. George News

Thomas Urda, 58, appeared in 5th District Court in St. George for sentencing on a third-degree felony DUI with serious bodily injury and three misdemeanor charges, including open container, failure to give name and assistance after an accident and driving without a license, charges to which the defendant pleaded guilty during a hearing Dec. 19. In exchange for the guilty plea, the state agreed to dismiss one third-degree felony charge of failing to remain at the scene of a crash with serious injury.

The case stems from an incident reported Sept. 11 involving a two-vehicle crash at 3700 W. State Street in Hurricane. Police arrived to find an unconscious driver in one of the vehicles, while the second vehicle was no longer at the scene.

Urda was identified as the driver of the second vehicle after a witness called 911 and provided a location. Shortly thereafter, officers located Urda as he was walking to his residence.

According to court records, the defendant admitted to leaving the scene of the crash. He was subsequently arrested after failing a field sobriety test. Charges were filed the following day, and Urda was released from jail at the end of October after posting bond.

During Thursday’s sentencing hearing, Prosecutor Rachelle Shumway said the recommended a jail sentence of 62 days was “not enough.”

Prosecutor Rachelle Shumway addresses the court during a sentencing hearing at 5th District Court, St. George, Utah, Jan. 30, 2020 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

She said Urda’s actions “caused so much devastation to one family” and that the defendant was not likely to change unless the court considered a longer sentence.

Shumway said the defendant’s refusal to change on his own is clear, explaining how in his statement regarding the crash, the defendant said the incident was enough “to make him almost stop drinking.”

“I don’t think that ‘almost’ is enough,” Shumway said, before asking the court to impose a sentence of 365 days in jail.

The driver who Urda hit in the crash also addressed the court, explaining how she was seriously injured.

She said Urda’s actions that day “have changed my life forever” and that she will likely suffer from the injuries she sustained for the rest of her life.

Urda’s attorney, Caleb Cottam, disagreed with the motion for a longer jail sentence, saying it would not serve the victim’s family for his client to be in jail.

L-R: Defense attorney Caleb Cottam and Thomas Urda during a sentencing hearing held at 5th District Court, St. George, Utah, Jan. 30, 2020 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Cottam said Urda intends to follow through with the recommendations set forth in his presentence report, including a jail term of 62 days, as well as all other standard terms for an alcohol-related crime.

“I’m sorry for the victims. I really am,” Urda said during the hearing, adding that he has been sober before and done very well in the past. He also asked the judge to take into account his age, saying he would “never get behind the wheel again — not even with a sip of drink — ever again.”

The father of the driver then addressed the court.

“We are forgiving people, but this isn’t the first offense for the defendant,” he said, adding that Urda should not get a “slap on the wrist” and that the sentence should fit the crime.

District Judge John J. Walton addresses a defendant during a sentencing hearing held at 5th District Court, St. George, Utah, Jan. 30, 2020 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

At that point, District Judge John J. Walton clarified that the presentence report provides sentencing recommendations to assist in determining the appropriate sentence, including the minimum sentencing guidelines, but, he explained, the court is not required to follow them.

“Just to be clear, based on what I’ve seen in this case, I don’t intend to impose the minimum,” Walton said.

True to his word, Walton sentenced the defendant to serve 365 days in jail in lieu of a prison sentence of 0-5 years that was suspended in the case. Upon his release, Urda will be placed on probation with Adult Probation and Parole for 36 months. He is also required to pay a fine of $2,850 and restitution in the amount of $2,094, obtain a substance abuse evaluation and have an interlock device installed in his vehicle.

The defendant was handcuffed and led out of the courtroom to a holding cell before being transported to Purgatory Correctional Facility to serve out his sentence.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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