BOISE — A magistrate judge in Ada County on Thursday sentenced a Nampa woman to 25 days in jail for striking and killing a 71-year-old cyclist in Eagle in 2018.
Mary Curtis, now 71, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter in November in connection with the death of Joann Baker in August 2018. Magistrate Judge John Hawley specified Curtis can satisfy the requirement to spend 25 days in the jail by doing community service through an Ada County Sheriff’s Office program.
The crash occurred at the intersection of State Street and Edgewood Lane in Eagle. Curtis turned onto Edgewood Lane from State Street, crossed three lanes of traffic, and struck Baker in a crosswalk there. Curtis took her eyes off the road for a moment because she saw a school bus ahead of her, she said later in court. By the time she looked back, she didn’t have time to stop before she struck Baker, she said.
“I’m really sorry that we’re all here today,” Hawley said at Curtis’ sentencing Thursday. “This is a very difficult case.”
Curtis herself had never avoided taking responsibility for the crash, said her attorney Matt Stoppello. She didn’t try to on Thursday. She wasn’t under the influence of drugs or alcohol on the day of the crash, nor was she speeding — police would later estimate her speed between 34.8 mph and 36 mph. The speed limit in the area is 35 mph, Stoppello said.
“One moment of looking over my shoulder to change lanes changed all of our lives,” Curtis said, during her address to the court.
Prosecutors claimed she must have been distracted for longer, however. Delaney Peugh, one of the case’s prosecutors, cited information from police that she said showed Curtis had 13 seconds to stop. If Curtis had braked at any point in those 13 seconds, Peugh argued, the crash wouldn’t have happened.
“To call this an accident, I think, is a total mischaracterization,” Peugh said.
Jordan Hendry, another of the case’s prosecutors, read part of a victim impact statement from Baker’s son. In the statement, her son voiced concern about the court’s “relaxed attitude on this matter.”
In her argument, Peugh addressed her belief in the need for deterrence.
“If the courts don’t do something, if the state doesn’t do something when these types of things occur, what kind of message does that send to other members of the public, to other members of the community, that also commit acts of inattentive driving that result in these types of things?” Peugh said.
She also urged Hawley to enter a judgment of conviction instead of a withheld judgment. If the judge entered a withheld judgment, Peugh said, Curtis would automatically be eligible to have the conviction removed from her record. That would, she said, “not serve as any kind of deterrence to the public.”
Hawley granted her request and entered a judgment of conviction.
Stoppello argued Curtis had punished herself more than anyone in the courtroom could punish her. Curtis, a psychiatric clinical nurse specialist, had lost her ability to work with Medicaid recipients for five years as a result of the charge. She wasn’t able to retire when she’d planned to, he said, and she’d moved from her neighborhood in Ada County — where she lived near Baker’s family — to an RV on a friend’s property in Nampa.
“I personally just don’t agree with the state that a jail sentence is warranted, nor do I think it’s necessary,” Stoppello said.
In fashioning his sentence, Hawley appeared to draw a compromise by granting Curtis the ability to serve her jail sentence through community service instead. He sentenced her to two years of unsupervised probation, and suspended her driver’s license for a year, although he decided she could drive to and from work, community service, and medical appointments.
“There’s nothing the court can do to fill the void (Baker’s) death has left behind,” Hawley said. “And Ms. Curtis, you have to live with the fact that your driving caused the death of Joann Baker. It wasn’t an intentional or malicious act, but it was negligent.”