JEFFERSON COUNTY — An Idaho Falls woman will serve county jail time for a DUI crash that paralyzed a man.
Robin Challender, 37, appeared before District Judge Alan Stephens in Jefferson County Monday to be sentenced.
In May, Challender pulled into the intersection of 3400 East and 103 North after she apparently stopped at a stop sign, according to court records. Challender says she did not see a motorcyclist and passenger traveling toward her.
Tony Walters of Rigby and Beth Jagger of Idaho Falls, who had the right of way, were traveling on 3400 East when they smashed into Challender as she pulled into the intersection. Both people on the motorcycle were taken by ambulance to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center.
After Challender admitted to having consumed alcohol the night before, she was transported to the Jefferson County Jail. Investigators found Challender had a blood alcohol level of .227. The legal limit is .08.
She remained in county jail for two weeks and was released in June. Challender eventually entered a plea agreement and pleaded guilty to one felony charge of aggravated driving under the influence in late November.
Walters is now paralyzed. During the sentencing hearing, he described how he will never walk again and has limited function of his arms.
“If it wasn’t for my family, I would have never been able to come into this courtroom today,” he said.
Walters said that his physical mobility was destroyed in the crash and his relationship has suffered. He said he no longer has the ability to be physically intimate and only can connect to a significant other on a mental level.
Having undergone multiple surgeries with more to come, Walters told Stephens he would like to see Challender sentenced to the full term of 15 years and asked that she be ordered to serve one year of confinement with no work release.
Jaggers, who was also present, did not speak during the hearing.
Challender’s defense attorney, Sean Bartholick, asked to court to recognize that his client had no criminal history and that she chose to drink and drive because “she was going through some personal issues.”
Bartholick recommended probation along with local jail time including work release. Walters said he was appalled at the recommendation.
Challender says she’s been drinking since the age of 14. On the day of the crash, Challender told investigators she drank whiskey the night before and took some Xanax, a medication used to treat anxiety and panic disorder. During sentencing, she insisted she had consumed alcohol the night before the crash and had nothing to drink the day of the wreck.
Jefferson County Prosecutor Paul Butikofer challenged that statement by reminding the court that Challender had a blood alcohol level of nearly three times the legal limit.
Butikofer followed the plea agreement and recommended probation with local jail time. Butikofer asked Stephens to “look this man in the eye,” referring to Walters, while pronouncing his sentence.
Challender was sentenced to 365 days in jail with 60 days to be served without work release and credit for 14 days already served. Stephens suspended her license for two years and ordered that she use an interlock device for two years once her license is reinstated.
Challender was also placed on probation for five years.
In closing, Stephens looked at Walters and Jaggers and said, “I’m sorry this has happened to you. I hope things get better for you.”
After the hearing, Walters, who is unable to move his wheelchair on his own, received assistance from his family as he put on his coat. With an obvious look of disappointment, they struggled to push him through the unshoveled sidewalks outside the Jefferson County Courthouse.
Robert Patten, EastIdahoNews.com
Jackson Adams, Teton Valley News
Magdala Louissaint, KPVI