‘I forgave him.’ Husband of woman hit and killed by neighbor speaks at sentencing hearing
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RIGBY — The husband of a woman hit and killed by their neighbor in a May accident said he’s forgiven the man responsible during a sentencing hearing Tuesday morning.
Lincoln Lear, 46, will spend a year on probation after pleading guilty to misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter. Magistrate Judge Robert Crowley handed down the sentence after hearing the statement given by the victim’s husband. On May 6, Lear hit and killed 40-year-old Melissa C. Nielsen while she walked in their neighborhood on 136 North.
“It’s unfortunate this happened. I love my wife,” said Nielsen’s husband, Curtis Nielsen. “But if you do know Lincoln like I do, I know that he has no malice. He’s a gentle person. It’s a mistake many of us have made before and not had the same consequence.”
Lear left for work a little before 6 a.m. on May 6 as Melissa was on a morning walk. Lear described what happened next.
“I reached down to plug in my phone while I was driving. When I looked up, I hit and killed Melissa Nielsen,” he said.
Police reports indicate Lear immediately stopped after running over the mother of four children. He called 911, and despite life-saving efforts by first responders, Nielsen passed away.
“I don’t have any ill feelings towards him (Lear),” Nielsen said. “I forgave him and hugged him that morning of the accident … He’s paid enough for that moment of just being distracted. Even though it was tragic, there have been many blessings that have come because of it and I see those more and more as the time as gone on.”
Defense attorney Penny North-Shaul asked Crowly to give Lear a sentence of no jail time so he could continue to care for his wife and sons who have disabilities. She said Lear, the sole provider of the family, needs a driver’s license to run errands, take the family to appointments and drive to work in Idaho Falls. Nielsen supported the recommendation.
“What’s important at this time is he have all the time he can with his family,” he said. “I want him to be able to have what he can of a happy life and I know that for him mentally, that’s the biggest struggle. I know if I were in his shoes, I would struggle with that at this point.”
Lear expressed his remorse for having to bring the Nielsen family to the sentencing in relation to their wife and mother’s death.
“Pay attention to your driving,” Lear said as his advice to the public.
Lear reached a plea agreement with prosecutors that recommended that he pay court cost, have no suspension of his driver’s license and spend a year on probation. Jefferson County Prosecutor Paul Butikofer said the plea agreement came as a result of speaking with the victims.
“I can’t even imagine how difficult this is for Mr. Lear and Mr. Nielsen,” Judge Crowley said. “No matter what I do, there’s suffering going on and there is nothing I can do to relieve that.”
Crowley paused for a moment before handing down the sentence and said he would follow the recommendations of the plea agreement by placing Lear on a year of probation with the first six months under supervision.
“The reason I’m doing that is I want to have available to you some additional tools,” Crowley said. “I’m not doing this by way of punishment.”
Crowley also granted Lear withheld judgment, meaning if Lear is successful on probation, the conviction could be removed from his criminal record.
“I appreciate your mercy,” Lear responded.