Woman sentenced to 16 years for vehicular homicide

California couple killed after driver hits their motorcycle

Frank Steward Enlarge photo

Frank Steward

A 90-minute hearing in which emotion surfaced frequently ended Friday with a 16-year prison sentence for the Durango woman who killed a California couple riding a motorcycle.

Stacie Pierce-Green, 41, has been in La Plata County Jail since May 22, 2012, after her green Mercury Tracer she was driving drifted across the double-yellow line on U.S. Highway 160 about four miles west of Hesperus and sideswiped the motorcycle.

Frank Steward, 66, and his wife, Jessica Steward, 65, of Tahoe Vista, Calif., died instantly. The crash occurred about 100 feet from where a triple-fatal crash occurred in 2011.

According to an arrest affadavit, Pierce-Green told a Colorado State Patrol trooper at the scene that she had consumed four Bud Light beers and smoked marijuana at a friend’s house in Durango shortly before the crash.

Pierce-Green, booked for two counts of vehicular homicide, also was held on a probation violation involving domestic violence.

The voices of two of the Stewards’ sons, Frank III and Eric, and two of Jessica Steward’s sisters, Carolyn Patricia Newman and Laura Coleman, broke occasionally as they spoke of missing the love and joy the couple imbued in the family.

Their early years were difficult, the brothers said, because their father was an alcoholic. But he was a changed man in the last 17 years after he became a stalwart in Alcohol Anonymous. He was a friend and resource for the entire community, they said.

The family members displayed photos and a video of happy moments.

Public Defender Amy Smith contrasted the life of Pierce-Green with the joy, love and trust inspired by the Stewards.

Pierce-Green, married in her young 20s, had a daughter who suffered an illness that, marginalized by medical personnel, left her forever as a 6-month-old, Smith said. As a result, she turned to drugs and alcohol, drifted in and out of relationships and once was thrown from a moving vehicle.

“Stacie doesn’t try to minimize her role in the accident and not accept responsibility,” Smith said. “Her heart was broken and is still broken today.”

Dawn Moore with the agency that ministers to La Plata County Jail inmates and Pierce-Green’s daughter, Lauren Lewellen, spoke on the prisoner’s behalf.

Moore said Pierce-Green found the Lord while in jail and Lewellen said she knows her mother is repentant. She’ll be separated from a 7-year-old son during his formative years, Lewellen said.

Pierce-Green choked up while reading a statement.

“I hope the Lord who made the Earth and the sky can bring comfort to the Steward family,” she said. “I made a very bad mistake that day, and if I had the power to undo what I did, I would. No amount of time will make what I did right.”

Deputy District Attorney David Ottman said the negotiated sentence, two 8-year terms to run consecutively, was based on “anecdotal” review of similar cases in Colorado.

Ottman said he finds it ironic that Pierce-Green killed the man who could have been a friend and supporter in a different situation.

Judge Suzanne Carlson of the 6th Judicial District Court said Pierce-Green’s early intransigence in accepting responsibility for the tragedy made her reluctant to accept the recommended sentence.

But what she heard Friday changed her mind, Carlson said.

The time remaining on Pierce-Green’s domestic violence incident will be served concurrently with the vehicular homicide sentences.

Pierce-Green faces five years of parole when released and will have to pay yet-undetermined restitution and court costs. The monetary sums will be presented within 30 days.

daler@durangoherald.com

Jessica Steward Enlarge photo

Jessica Steward