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Judge orders prison for Bluebell man who killed 2 in crash but was only charged with 1 death


By Emily Ashcraft

6/30/23


A father told a judge Thursday that the man who caused the crash that killed his daughter made a clear, conscious decision to get high, steal a vehicle and plow through a red light.


"He deserves no mercy, and the maximum sentence allowed. At some point he will be given a second chance, which is not the case for Amber. I love and miss her spirit, and she will live in my heart forever," Terry Schneiter said.


He said the death of his daughter, Amber Schneiter, has created a hole in his heart, left a 3-year-old girl without a mom, and affected his entire extended family. Schneiter said he raised his daughter and his son as a single parent for most of their lives, and he talked about memories from that time, going through their nightly routines.


Schneiter spoke about watching his daughter in the intensive care unit for 12 days, before watching an organ donation team wheel her away.


"It was painfully obvious she was not going to improve," he said.


Jaden Olin Eckes, 22, of Bluebell, Duchesne County, caused crashes at two different intersections on New Year's Eve. Amber Schneiter was driving one of the five cars involved in the second crash in West Valley City.


The crash also caused the death of Bernardo Molina, one of two pedestrians in the crosswalk who were hit by Eckes' car as it entered the intersection on a red light. Charging documents said Eckes admitted to smoking methamphetamine that evening a couple of hours before the crash.


Molina also had family members at Thursday's sentencing. They chose not to speak but submitted written statements before the hearing.


'You had your chance'

Eckes was charged with automobile homicide for only one of the deaths and was charged with causing serious injury to a second victim. And when that second victim died, the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office never filed amended charges to reflect the second death.


It is not even clear for which death he pleaded guilty. Court documents in the case do not refer to either victim by name. When his charges were filed, Amber Schneiter was still on life support and the automobile homicide charge was related to the death of a pedestrian — Molina. But the guilty plea Eckes signed said it was for causing the death of a driver. That court document doesn't mention either of the victims' names, either.


A plea deal allowed Eckes to plead guilty to a reduced charge of negligently operating a vehicle resulting in death, a second-degree felony, plus negligently operating a vehicle resulting in serious bodily injury, a third-degree felony. In exchange for those pleas, 12 other charges were dismissed.


Third District Judge Barry Lawrence ordered the maximum sentence possible for Eckes while respecting the plea deal that had been offered by prosecutors and accepted by Eckes and his attorney.


Eckes was ordered to serve a term of between one and 15 years in prison for negligently operating a vehicle involving a death, a second-degree felony; a term of zero to five years in prison for negligently operating a vehicle causing serious injury, a third-degree felony; and as part of a separate case, a term of one to 15 years in prison for theft by receiving property, a second-degree felony. Each of the sentences was ordered to be served consecutive to the others, making the sentence somewhere between two years and 30 years.


"I do believe that, frankly, the facts of this case indicate the most strenuous penalty possible," Lawrence said. "If there isn't consecutive sentences here I don't know what is."

Although he pleaded guilty to negligence, the judge said "reckless" isn't even the right word in this circumstance. He said Eckes caused the death of two people and significant injuries to another person.


"Mr. Eckes, you had your chance, you were on probation when this happened. You were on probation at a time when you fled, ran over two pedestrians and caused a number of accidents. … I'm not giving you that chance again," he said.


A plea deal

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said the charges in this case were not updated to reflect that two victims had died and not just one victim "because they were part of a negotiated settlement." But the plea deal wasn't reached until about four months after Amber Schneiter died in January.


Gill said in the plea deal, Eckes agreed to face penalties for two second-degree felonies. One of those was from a separate theft case.


"We are pleased that the judge gave Mr. Eckes consecutive sentences that could keep him in prison for up to 30 years. As with almost every resolution, a plea disposition secures the certainty of a conviction while achieving a more expedient outcome than going to trial. In addition, the plea disposition removes the need for appeals that inevitably follow a trial. This particular resolution achieved the maximum possible sentence under the law," Gill said.


Homelessness

Defense attorney Erin Wilson said his client had been homeless for the last year and a half, and had stolen a car in order to find some warmth. He said Eckes did not have extended family to help support him and was raised by a single mom whom he had been alienated from at 18. Wilson said before the crash, Eckes had been up for between four and five days straight, and was not thinking straight.


"One of the biggest issues that this court has is how do we help people without a home?" he asked.


Wilson said Eckes is remorseful and has shown a willingness since he was incarcerated to improve, but the system had previously "set him up for failure." He asked the judge to send Eckes to a two-year residential program that would help him improve his life.


"Jaden cannot get back the lives that he has taken. It is a tragedy, and we sincerely mourn their losses. But it would also be a tragedy to throw away the life of one who is so young. ... He still has a chance, he is not lost to us, and his story does not have to be another tragedy on top of the one that has already been suffered," Wilson said.


Eckes gave a short statement, and told the judge he had found a drug recovery program while in jail on his own, and his mom helped him look up outside treatment options.

"I am willing to get the treatment I need. I am very remorseful about everything that has happened," he told the judge.


The judge said homelessness is not an excuse.


"I understand that you may have been homeless and you may have been lonely, but not every homeless person and not every lonely person and not every person on drugs engages in this kind of (behavior)," he said.


Deputy Salt Lake County district attorney Heather Lindsay said cases like this are the ones that keep prosecutors and judges up at night — when someone with no criminal history escalates, and within six months from being given an opportunity for probation ends up taking two lives.


She said Eckes took advantage of the court system. He was on probation at the time of the crash and had multiple warrants out for his arrest — but he had never checked in with Adult Probation and Parole.


"The defendant has shown this court he is not safe in the community," she said.

She argued that prison is the only way to keep the community safe and ensure Eckes gets the treatment he needs.


Original Story


Man arrested following multi-vehicle crashes, fatal auto-pedestrian crash


By Sicily Stanton Jan. 1, 2023

WEST VALLEY CITY — A man who caused multiple crashes resulting in at least one fatality Saturday night has been detained by police after attempting to run on foot.


Lt. Robert Brinton with West Valley City police said the driver, who is in his mid-20s, first caused a two-car crash at 3100 South and Redwood Road in West Valley City, leaving the drivers with minor injuries. Following that first crash, officers said the driver fled the scene southbound and continued driving.


Brinton said the man then caused another crash at 4100 South and Redwood Road, where he went through the intersection and struck a pedestrian. Police originally said two people had been hit but later clarified that just one person was hit.


Brinton said it appears that the driver who was fleeing ran a red light when he hit the pedestrian and caused a car crossing the intersection to hit the truck, which led to a chain reaction involving a total of five cars.


The pedestrian, an adult man, is deceased. Brinton said another man who is an acquaintance of the deceased man was also at the scene. He was unharmed and police were giving him care and planning to interview him.


The woman driving the vehicle going westbound was transported to a hospital in critical condition, and Saturday night police were looking for relatives of an uninjured 2-year-old child in the car with the woman, Brinton said.


Other injuries from this crash were minor and came mainly from seat belts and airbags, he said.


Brinton said the driver of the pickup truck then abandoned his vehicle, which they say was reported stolen, and attempted to flee on foot. However, nearby officers with the Taylorsville Police Department assisting on another call were able to capture the man and he is now in custody.


Police did not release the identity of the man who was arrested, nor that of the man who was hit and killed. Brinton said the man who caused the crashes was being evaluated at a hospital Saturday prior to being brought to the police station.


Due to this fatal crash, 4100 South and Redwood Road was closed in all directions on Saturday evening. Brinton said they expected the closure would last two or three hours.



Utah man pleads guilty in crash that killed 2, but plea accounts for only 1 death


By Emily Ashcraft June 15, 2023

WEST VALLEY CITY — A five-car crash in West Valley City on New Year's Eve led to the immediate death of a pedestrian who was pushing his friend across the street in a wheelchair, and the subsequent death of a mother driving one of the cars who was taken off of life support 12 days later.

The driver accused of causing the crash in a stolen car was under the influence of methamphetamine and alcohol, according to charging documents.

But Jaden Olin Eckes, 22, of Bluebell, Duchesne County, was charged with automobile homicide for only one of the deaths. And now he has taken a plea deal, admitting to just one of those deaths. But it's unclear which death he is taking responsibility for.

And multiple court documents prepared by West Valley police, the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office and 3rd District Court inexplicably do not mention the full names of the two victims who police and prosecutors are representing.

Eckes pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of negligently operating a vehicle resulting in death, a second-degree felony, plus negligently operating a vehicle resulting in serious bodily injury, a third-degree felony. In exchange, five felonies, five misdemeanors and two infractions were dismissed.

When he was originally charged with automobile homicide, it was for the death of the pedestrian — only identified in any court documents as "B. Molina." Molina died at the scene. But when Eckes signed a statement supporting his guilty plea, it says Eckes was responsible for running a red light and causing a crash resulting in the "death of one driver and seriously injuring a pedestrian." That document prepared by the Salt Lake Legal Defender Association does not mention the names of any victim.

Other court documents only identify the driver as "A. Schneiter" and indicate that she suffered severe injuries and was not expected to survive. But while Eckes was charged with negligently operating a vehicle resulting in serious bodily injury involving Schneiter, the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office never upgraded those charges to reflect her death, according to court records.

The district attorney's office won't comment on why charges were never filed regarding both deaths nor will it say which death Eckes has taken responsibility for. Nor would the district attorney's office release the full names of the two victims it is representing on behalf of the state. A spokesman said the office won't comment before Eckes is sentenced in the case on June 29 by Judge Barry Lawrence.

KSL.com has subsequently learned that the two victims are Bernardo Molina, 33, and Amber Schneiter. Her age is redacted for some reason from a West Valley police report obtained through a public records request.

Shantel Billings knew both of the victims. She said Schneiter was on her way to help a friend who needed gas when the car she was driving was hit, causing her eventual death.

"They're both just trying to help the world, you know, and they both got their lives taken that night and that's just messed up," she said.

Billings and Schneiter were living in the same home, and she said Schneiter was her best friend. Her friend was kept on life support for 12 days and after seeing no improvement, doctors took her off life support.

"She was a good mother, she was a good person, a really good person," Billings said.

It wasn't until about two months later that Billings learned who the other person was who died at that intersection — her friend Bernie Molina. She said his niece called to let her know about the incident.

"It just broke me, it broke me down," she said about learning Molina had died in the same crash.

Billings said she thinks this case is one that should be followed up, and should be given proper attention. She said the crash not only took two lives, but it also took lives from many family members and friends of the two victims. She believes Eckes should get more than a slap on the hand, arguing that his age or drugs should not be an excuse.

"It's just not OK. … The kid messed up really big, and he shouldn't get away with any of it like that," Billings said.

Officers responded to the fatal hit-and-run crash at 8:45 p.m. on Dec. 31, 2022, and learned a truck had fled the scene after hitting two pedestrians and four vehicles.

Eckes, who was driving a stolen 1996 Dodge Ram 2500, was involved in a hit-and-run at 3100 S. Redwood Road before he fled south and the crash occurred at 4100 S. Redwood Road, charging documents say.

His car entered the intersection on a red light and hit two pedestrians. Molina was thrown 96 feet and was pronounced dead at the scene; the other pedestrian who was in a wheelchair suffered minor injuries.

Once he was in the intersection, Eckes hit four different cars, according to charging documents. Eckes' vehicle pushed a Jeep, driven by Schneiter, into the passenger side of a Kia, causing the Jeep and the truck driven by Eckes to rotate in opposite directions, and then hit a Dodge Challenger, which was then pushed into an Acura MDX.

Schneiter suffered severe brain trauma, a broken spine and broken ribs, according to charging documents.

As Eckes was leaving the scene of that crash, an officer who was on a call nearby saw him running south from the crash site and ordered him to stop.

The officer reported that Eckes continued, saying, "How bad did I hurt them?" and "Please tell me I didn't kill them." While he was submitting to a voluntary blood test, officers said Eckes said twice, "I should have just stopped."

Charging documents said Eckes admitted to smoking methamphetamine that evening at about 7 p.m.

The 12 charges that were dismissed as part of Eckes' plea bargain include theft by receiving stolen property, a second-degree felony; negligently operating a vehicle resulting in serious bodily injury, failure to remain at the scene of an accident causing death, two counts of failure to remain at the scene of an accident causing serious injury, third-degree felonies; negligently operating a vehicle resulting in injury, failure to remain at an accident involving injury, failure to stop at the command of law enforcement, possession of a controlled substance, class A misdemeanors; accident involving property damage, a class B misdemeanor; and failure to obey traffic control devices and failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk, infractions.

Eckes also pleaded guilty to theft by receiving stolen property, a second-degree felony, in a separate case, admitting he was in possession of a stolen vehicle on Sept. 29, 2022.

As part of the same plea deal, Eckes admitted to theft by receiving stolen property, a second-degree felony, in a separate case. Charges in two other cases were dismissed as well.





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