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Utah man who caused deadly, fiery crash sentenced to prison

Published August 4, 2014 7:21 pm

Courts • Westminster College student died in fiery crash day before her birthday.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In a few hours, the man who killed her 26-year-old daughter would be sentenced in 3rd District Court, but as she waited outside the court-room before the sentencing Monday, Mary Waters wore a mask of composure.

Before the sun had come up on Salt Lake City on Jan. 6, 2011, Waters' daughter, Julie Jorgenson, was rear-ended by a pickup that was barreling down 500 South. Jorgenson had been waiting for the light at 300 East to turn green.

The driver, Shane Roy Gillette, collided with Jorgensen at 70 mph. He had been smoking marijuana, and he could not see through his frost-coated windshield. There was no evidence he tried to brake, an investigator said.

In the fiery aftermath, Jorgenson's body was so badly burned that the medical examiner took two weeks to positively identify her.

The next day, Jorgenson, who was pursuing an MBA at Westminster College, would have turned 27. Mary Waters had made plans to visit Salt Lake for her daughter's birthday and teach her to bake banana bread.

All Waters wanted, she said before the sentencing, was justice. "For a life, there needs to be significant consequences," Waters said. "I'm hoping for some prison."

About three hours later, Judge Denise Lindberg handed down the maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison, plus $5,000 in restitution to Jorgenson's family.

Gillette, 38, had pleaded guilty on June 10 to one count of manslaughter and another count of operating a vehicle negligently causing injury or death, both third-degree felonies.

At the sentencing, Gillette's attorney Scott Wilson urged that his client be given probation.

Wilson argued that Gillette was not impaired by the trace amount of marijuana in his system, but rather was suffering from paranoid delusions that morning. There was no other explanation for Gillette's behavior: getting into his truck on a 14-degree morning without putting on shoes, socks or a shirt, and apparently fleeing from his house "like a bat out of hell, going over 70 mph, with no place to go," Wilson said.

Gillette's psychosis was such that he was initially ruled incompetent to stand trial, a ruling that was reversed only after he had been treated with medication, Wilson said. Gillette no longer experienced delusions; his behavior had improved.

Addressing the judge, Gillette also attributed his behavior to mental illness. He expressed remorse and said that, if given probation, he would work to help others with mental illness.

But Salt Lake County Deputy District Attorney Sandi Johnson said Gillette had known he had bipolar disorder since he was 10 and had stopped taking medication when he turned 18. He used illegal drugs, lived in a flop house, and ignored his mental illness.

"This was a series of choices by Mr. Gillete," Johnson said. "He prepared the bomb, he lit the fuse, and then when it went off, now he wants to say, 'I wasn't responsible for that.'"

Then Waters asked the judge to impose a harsh penalty.

"My daugther deserves justice," she said. "Please consider rendering a sentence that you would give to someone who had taken your own daughter's life."

In handing down her sentence, Lindberg acknowledged Gillette's remorse and lamented that the case had no good outcome.

"While I believe you probably were feeling paranoid on that day, the series of choices you made before that day and on that day ultimately cost a life," Lindberg said. "I simply cannot ignore that."

Lindberg sentenced Gillette to serve up to five years for both of the felonies, recommending he be given credit for the three-and-a-half years he had served since the accident.

"Grief doesn't go away. It just gets less with time," Waters said after the sentencing. "We'll always miss Julie."


Twitter: @Harry_Stevens






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