An emotional daughter asked for justice at the sentencing of Zachary Salers, the man who attempted to pass several vehicles in a snowstorm before colliding head-on with her mother's car.
"What price do you put on a human life?" Amy Ritter asked Salers, choking back tears. "I know my mom would want me to forgive you, but I'm not even close, and it's been six months. We don't want revenge, but I want justice."
When a photo of Sharon Steskal was presented to Judge Donna Farrell Taylor in Antelope County Court today, Ritter said it was taken on her parent's 50th wedding anniversary. She said her dad has "lost the person who he has been in love with for 53 years."
"I don't think you have any idea how many lives you've impacted," Ritter said. "I wish you could have heard all the screaming and crying that day. What were you in such a hurry for?"
According to police reports, Salers, 25, of O'Neill, attempted to pass several vehicles on Hwy. 275 west of Clearwater when his pickup collided head-on with an eastbound car driven by Sharon Steskal, 70, of Clearwater, in March 2014. Steskal died at the scene. Salers and his passenger, Carrie Lynn Mulford, 21, of Hampton, Iowa were both transported to the hospital in O'Neill.
Salers was sentenced to one year in prison on Wednesday. In June, he pleaded no contest to the charges of motor vehicle homicide, a class I misdemeanor, and careless driving, an infraction.
"Taking into consideration your record, the motor vehicle accident that day, passing vehicles and trying to pass a snowplow that was trying to clear the road, I'm going to sentence you to the Antelope County Jail for one year, impose a $100 fine, and your license will be revoked for one year," Taylor said.
Steskal's daughter said 700 people attended the wake and funeral service for her mother.
"The whole town is suffering for what you did," Ritter said. "I hope one day you can realize what you did to everybody."
Antelope County Attorney Joe Abler reiterated Ritter's comments and went on to describe Salers actions of passing four vehicles in a snowstorm as "reckless." He asked the judge to hand down the maximum penalty of one year in jail or prison.
Pat Carney, the public defender representing Salers, said this "was a bad decision that had horrific results, but it was a bad decision without the intent to do harm."
"Mr. Salers is asking for an opportunity for probation," Carney said. "He is employed and is the primary supporter for his family."
Salers was given a chance to speak prior to his judgement. He turned to the family tearfully and said, "I would like to tell the family that I am sorry. I am sorry I didn't contact you earlier, but I was asked not to. I am sorry for your loss. I could only imagine losing my wife or my mother. I'm sorry."
The judge looked through Salers' criminal history, reciting charges of negligent driving, reckless driving, driving during revocation, assault, and domestic assault.
She scolded Salers by saying, "Here we had a lady who was important to her family and her community, and in this accident, there was no fault on her part. This wasn't just a lapse of judgement."
"This was undoubtedly reckless," the said. "Passing four vehicles in a blinding snowstorm. You were impatient with people waiting for the snowplow. At anytime you could've pulled back in and said, 'This is dumb, I should wait.'"