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Wyoming man gets jail for drunken automobile homicide

Published September 9, 2013 7:13 pm

Courts • Victim's family offers forgiveness, says defendant should learn from his mistake.
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Before the car veered off the road; before it rolled over, mangling metal and shattering glass; before a 22-year-old man in the back seat was flung out of the vehicle and onto the ground, the driver had a choice.

Jacob C. Jensen didn't have to drive, a judge said Monday.

He had been drinking. He had been doing drugs. He had a ride coming.

"[Wallace] did exactly what you should have done — not drive," 3rd District Judge Elizabeth Hruby-Mills said. "He took the keys and fell asleep in the backseat. That was the right decision. What you did was very, very stupid."

On Monday, Jensen, 28, was sentenced to a year in prison for that "stupid" decision.

Jensen, of Boulder, Wyo., pleaded guilty to automobile homicide by driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs in July. In exchange for his plea, prosecutors dropped two misdemeanor charges.

He faced a maximum penalty of up to five years in state prison, and prosecutors asked the judge to order that Jensen serve just that.

But after listening to several family members of the victim, 22-year-old Joshua Wallace, ask that Jensen be spared prison time, the judge sentenced him to a year in prison, followed by three years probation.

Friends and family of Wallace, who was thrown from the car as it rolled after the collision, spoke out in court Monday.

Jensen was like a brother to Wallace, they said. He would have wanted them to offer forgiveness rather than call for retribution.

So, they did.

"I know in my heart that Josh would forgive Jacob and wouldn't wish any more pain on him than he's already suffered," the victim's mother,Tanya Wallace, said. "He's just like one of my boys. And now, I feel like I've lost two boys instead of one."

The one outlier was Wallace's paternal grandmother, who asked that Jensen should have been sentenced to prison.

"Forgiveness is important, but penance has to be made," Lynne Wallace said. "You took a life with great potential. … People must be held accountable for their choices."

She felt the punishment the judge handed down was too light for what Jensen took from her family.

Jensen and Wallace had gone to a concert at Saltair on Dec. 2, 2012. They drank and smoked marijuana. Both had blood alcohol levels nearly three times the legal limit, officials said.

Wallace fell asleep in the backseat of the car with the keys on his lap. Before he passed out, his mother said, he told Jensen he could move the car to the side of the highway to wait for a relative to pick them up.

Instead, Jensen began driving south on State Road 202 about 11:45 p.m. He lost control of the vehicle rounding a turn near the intersection of State Road 201.

The Jeep Grand Cherokee swerved off the road, into northbound lanes and rolled over. Wallace was thrown from the back of the truck, officials said.

He died at the scene.

Jensen's family declined to comment as they left the courtroom Monday. But his mother and father offered hugs and condolences to Wallace's family and 21-year-old girlfriend.

Jensen, who briefly apologized before he was sentenced, said he has suffered, too.

"If I could, I would go back and make better choices," said Jensen, a tall, lanky man with brown hair pulled behind his head in a short ponytail. "I know I let a lot of people down."

Jensen's year-long commitment began immediately. He was not given credit for the nine months he has already spent behind bars.

In addition to probation, Jensen will be asked to undergo substance abuse counselling and random drug and alcohol checks.

Wallace's father, Kenny Wallace, said he hopes Jensen can learn from the experience and use it to change other people's lives for the better as time goes on.

"Jacob, make me the same promise that Josh did," the father said in court. "Promise you will never get behind the wheel in those circumstances ever again. … And help others from making the same mistake that you did so that no other families have to suffer as we have."


Twitter: @Marissa_Jae




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