‘A tragedy for all involved:’ emotions flare in manslaughter case
RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - A sliver of bittersweet justice was served for the family of a beloved family man killed nearly two years ago.
On Thursday, following emotional testimony from the prosecution and defense, 77-year-old Linda Harrell of Rapid City received her sentence for second-degree manslaughter after her distracted driving caused her to strike and kill a motorcyclist near Johnson Siding on July 26, 2019.
According to statements provided in court by the presiding judge, defense attorney Tim Rensch and Harrell herself, the Rapid City woman was fidgeting with her car’s air conditioning when she drifted over the center line on West Highway 44, leading her to collide head-on with Marvin Olson, 58.
Judge Pfeifle accepted Harrell’s guilty plea to second-degree manslaughter and ordered her license revoked for life. She also has to pay a $1,000 fine and miscellaneous court costs, but state’s attorneys’ prosecuting the case and Rensch jointly agreed to substitute a 90-day jail sentence with two years of probation.
A Family Man
Prior to receiving her sentence, Ashley Gregorio, Olson’s daughter, phoned-in to the courtroom to read a strong letter describing her father and condemning Harrell for her actions.
According to the daughter, Olson was a family man that worked two jobs to provide for his loved ones and was loved in his community.
“You killed my father, my mother’s husband,” Gregorio said with little forgiveness for the 77-year-old. “You took the life of someone who gave abundantly more than he received.”
Olson’s kin also believed the sentence was too light and called an apology letter written to the family from Harrell disingenuous.
A Tragedy For All
Tim Rensch made a point to depict his client as someone “utterly remorseful” for the outcome of the accident before the court. He emphasized that Harrell would do anything to change what had happened, but admitted nothing can fix the past.
“What she did was reckless, she should have been paying attention to the road,” Rensch said.
He would later defend his client: “she’s scared to drive, she doesn’t want to drive, nobody wanted this gentleman to die.”
Deputy State’s Attorney Stacy Wickre, a prosecutor on the case, gave a mutual sentiment, saying “this is a tragedy for all involved.”
A Letter From Linda
Harrell was offered a chance to talk to the family and apologize during her sentence hearing. Between sobs, she admitted feelings of guilt and sorrow for what had transpired more than a year ago.
“I know words cannot take away the pain and hurt I have caused you,” Harrell read from an apology letter she had written for the somber occasion.
Another letter written to the family indicated Harrell’s desire to have died in the crash instead of Olson. This was also expressed by Harrell in court, with her saying “I’ve had a long life. I would gladly give Marvin my life.”
She finished her apology by reading a Christian prayer for the beloved victim.
A Judge’s Conclusion
Judge Craig Pfeifle shared the consensus that the fatal accident was a clear tragedy for both sides but determined there was a great contrast between the two parties involved.
The presiding judge cited dash-cam footage presented in previous hearings which showed Harrell “clearly struggled” with operating her vehicle.
He said she was driving in Olson’s lane of travel for a considerable length of time, and though the road was “admittedly curvy,” she knew the responsibilities of getting behind the wheel.
In turn, he described Olson as a selfless man whose life was cut short by a selfish act.
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