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La Crosse County man sentenced to 26 months in prison for fatal crash

La Crosse County man sentenced to 26 months in prison for fatal crash

From the What you missed this week in notable La Crosse crimes and court cases series
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David Sanders

Sanders

Maria Gartner

Gartner

A town of Greenfield man will spend a month in jail for each year of Maria Gartner’s life, which was cut short in 2017 after he struck her vehicle head-on while driving more than 90 mph in La Crosse County.

David S. Sanders, 34, pleaded guilty Friday to homicide by negligent operation of a motor vehicle in La Crosse County Circuit Court and was sentenced to 26 months of incarceration in prison and an additional 60 months on extended supervision by Judge Ramona Gonzalez. Sanders also was ordered to complete 2,600 hours of community service while on probation and pay a $2,600 fine, in addition to court costs, probation fees and other fines.

“I have chosen 26 because it is a meaningful number. It is a number that says you must remember for each one of those months a year that you took,” Gonzalez said. “In that 60 months and for the rest of your life, Mr. Sanders, you will remember that this young woman was not able to live anything more than those 26 years.”

Sanders admitted in court Friday that his negligence early July 25, 2017, killed Gartner, a certified nursing assistant who was on her way to work. Sanders was found to be driving in excess of 95 mph in a 55-mph zone on a windy stretch of Hwy. FO near Yanzer Road. A blood test showed he had a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.086% more than an hour after the crash; however, due to a procedural error, the evidence was inadmissible.

Gartner’s family and friends called for the maximum sentence of 10 years, arguing that Sanders’ selfish, reckless decision cost a smart, compassionate and funny young woman the chance to pursue her nursing career, marry the love of her life and have children of her own.

Gartner’s mother, Cindy Gartner, described her as “one in a million.”

“She had the rare and instinctive gift of making everyone feel special,” Cindy Gartner said. “I weep every day for her.”

Cindy Gartner called for a stiff sentence, saying, “Maria was given a death sentence, and we were all given a life sentence.”

Friends and family recounted the times they shared laughs and Red Vines with Gartner, as well as Easter baskets, Mother’s Day cards and nursing classes.

“To say that Maria is missed wouldn’t begin to do any kind of justice for her,” her friend Hannah Sobkoyiak said.

Sanders apologized profusely to Gartner’s family. His voice broke as he said, “I am so sorry. I know you guys don’t, maybe, want to hear that, but I just want everybody to know how heartbroken I am. I think about that accident every moment of every day.”

He described leaving that morning late, hoping he could make up some time. He came upon Gartner’s car as he came down the hill. Data from his car’s computer shows he was flooring the pedal up until 1 second before he collided with Gartner. He took responsibility for speeding down the road and apologized for the lengthy legal process.

Sanders’ parents, John and Beth Sanders, also apologized for the loss of Gartner and described the sleepless nights Sanders has had since the crash more than two years ago. Sanders lost his foot in the crash and will have chronic pain due to his injuries.

“The accident changed the life of everyone that knows and loves David, and everyone that knows and loves Maria,” John Sanders said.

They also asked for forgiveness.

“When it’s us who was unjust and caused harm, it’s all we can do is hope for mercy,” John Sanders said.

While the law requires Gonzalez to consider probation, she said a sentence of only probation would depreciate the seriousness of the crime.

“The seriousness demands that you pay the price. Maria paid the price of your negligence with her life. I can’t take your life for hers, but I can take some of your time. And no time, let’s be clear, absolutely no time makes up for this young woman’s life,” Gonzalez said.

Sanders was allowed to say goodbye to his family, then taken into custody to begin his sentence.


Jourdan Vian can be reached at jvian@lacrossetribune.com or follow her on Twitter at @Jourdan_LCT.

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Jourdan Vian is a reporter and columnist covering crime and courts for the La Crosse Tribune. You can contact her at 608-791-8218 or jvian@lacrossetribune.com.

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