Prison Sentence Linked to Deadly DUI Wreck Upheld
ST. LOUIS (AP) - An Illinois appeals court has thrown out all but one of a woman’s 32 convictions related to her drunken 2009 wreck that killed four people, leaving stand the sole conviction that landed her a 20-year prison sentence she insisted was excessive.
The Mount Vernon, Ill.-based 5th District Appellate Court on Wednesday ruled Melissa Weiser’s 31 convictions on charges of aggravated driving under influence essentially were redundant, even though Weiser had pleaded guilty to the counts before having second thoughts.
Weiser, 31, pleaded guilty in February 2010, acknowledging she was drunk and had been smoking marijuana before she blew through a stop sign in southern Illinois’ Clinton County east of St. Louis and slammed into a Cadillac Escalade on Memorial Day weekend 2009.
Three people in the Escalade died, as did Weiser’s fiance, who was a passenger in her vehicle. Weiser and the Escalade’s four other occupants were injured.
Authorities said Weiser’s blood-alcohol level was .136 exceeding the state’s legal threshold for intoxication and tests detected marijuana in her system. An accident reconstructionist concluded that Weiser, a mother of three, was traveling 57 mph and made no attempt to stop when her car hit the SUV, which was moving at 31 mph.
At her sentencing hearing, Weiser testified she never intended harm and remembered getting intoxicated on alcohol and pot the day in question, though she didn’t recall driving that night. When asked by her attorney if she was behind the wheel at the time of the wreck, she replied, “I don’t know because I don’t remember, but science says I was driving so I take responsibility for it.”
But as she awaited sentencing, Weiser had told a probation officer she believed her boyfriend was driving because he typically took her keys from her if she was too drunk to drive.
“I don’t know if it will reflect on my sentence, but I would like to say I’m sorry,” she tearfully told the judge during sentencing. “I never meant for any of this to happen. If I could take it back I so would. If I could take everybody’s physical and emotional pain away I would. I don’t blame the families if they hate me. I am sorry. That’s it.”
The judge wasn’t swayed, stopping short of handing her the maximum punishment of 28 years in prison but concluding the minimum six-year term wasn’t appropriate, given the crash’s “horrific nature.” The judge imposed a 20-year sentence, concluding the wreck demonstrated Weiser’s reckless disregard for the law. Weiser’s waffling about whether she was the driver showed a “limited acceptance of responsibility,” the judge added.
Weiser, who had five prior convictions of driving without insurance and three for driving with a suspended license, later pressed to withdraw her guilty pleas and asked for a lesser sentence.
She remains imprisoned in the medium security Logan Correctional Center.
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