The investigation into a deadly crash at a controversial Omaha-area intersection has taken an unexpected turn—the county prosecutor is being criticized for his handling of the case.
16-year-old Madeline Shely was is being accused in Sarpy County Juvenile Court of misdemeanor motor vehicle homicide in the death of 15-year-old Nate LaFave, a passenger in the car she was driving.
County Attorney Lee Polikov, who issued a statement regarding the action, is now drawing the wrath of the dead teen’s family.
Beth LaFave, Nate’s mother, will not comment on the legal developments but is accusing Polikov of “grandstanding” and using the case to “gain attention” for himself.
She says he planned “a press release more than a week in advance…to drag out our worst nightmare.”
Polikov tells Nebraska Watchdog he’s following the law and is filing the case in juvenile court in order to put the emphasis on prevention—getting help for the driver— not punishment.
According to the state accident report examined by Nebraska Watchdog, LaFave was ‘riding shotgun’ when the Jeep Grand Cherokee which Shely was driving collided with a Dodge Ram pick-up truck at Highway 370 and 180th Street in Gretna.
Shely was seriously injured as was 15-year-old Carly Anne Kelly, who was sitting in the Jeep’s back seat.
The driver of the pick-up, 50-year-old Alan Hynes, was not injured.
Authorities tell Nebraska Watchdog there were no signs of drugs or alcohol and no cell phones were in use at the time of the October 11 crash.
In addition to motor vehicle homicide Polikov says Shely failed to yield the right of way and violated a state regulation involving teen-drivers.
Shely was driving under what’s known as a “provisional operator’s permit” which would have prohibited her from having more than one other teen in the car.
The accident was just one of a dozen wrecks in the last few years at the intersection of 370 and 180th Street which leads into Vala’s Pumpkin Patch.
As an exclusive investigation by Nebraska Watchdog uncovered, 8 of the 12 crashes occurred in the weeks just prior to Halloween when Vala’s is bringing in some 200,000 visitors.
At least two local officials have asked the Nebraska Department of Roads for a signal at the intersection but their requests have been denied; they were told that among things there has not been enough traffic throughout the year to warrant a light.
“Statistics are somebody’s son and daughter,” says Sarpy County Commissioner Jim Warren who is frustrated with the NDOR’s non-action.
The state report says Shely “was driving southbound through the intersection”—toward Vala’s— when she “came into the line of travel” of the pick-up, which was heading east.
Prosecutors say “excessive speed” was not an issue for either car but the state report does not indicate how fast either car was going.
The report does say the intersection does not need an engineering study.
The reports of the other 12 accidents at the intersection also note no-need for an engineering study.
Joe Jordan is the Nebraska Bureau Chief of Watchdog.org, where this piece originally appeared. Reprinted with permission.
Contact Joe Jordan at firstname.lastname@example.org