David Skeels, 67 of Ansley, was sentenced in Custer County District Court on Thursday, June 18 after he pled guilty in January as part of a plea deal to motor vehicle homicide (class IIIA felony), criminal attempt (class IIIA felony), and reckless driving (class III misdemeanor).
Skeels was charged following a deadly accident in October of 2018 where Skeels failed to stop at a stop sign at the intersection of Cumro Road and Highway 183 and crashed into the passenger side of a Dodge pickup. The impact killed the passenger of the vehicle, Brandon Massman and injured the driver, Wyatt Torticill who was taken to a hospital in Kearney.
Before arguments, Custer County Attorney Steve Bowers read two letters one from Wyatt Torticill and another from the family of Brandon Massman. Torticill stated that due to the actions of Skeels he was now suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), anxiety, and other ailments. Torticill also stated that he believed Skeels feels no remorse for the accident as he never attempted to reach out to the family or help in a direct way at the accident.
In the letter from the family of Brandon Massman, they stated that Brandon’s younger brother will now have to grow up without his role model and the person he looked up to. They stated that their family will never be the same because of the reckless decision Skeels made to run the stop sign.
During arguments, Bowers stated that there were discrepancies in the story Skeels told the probation office for the pre-sentence report and what was told to police at the time of the accident. Skeels claimed that he did a rolling stop and looked both ways, but also stated that he didn’t see the stop sign and the pickup just appeared.
Bowers also said that while Skeels had a limited criminal history this was an accident that was going to happen at some point. Bowers asked to court to sentence Skeels to prison for a term of seven years while also revoking his driving privileges.
Skeels’ attorney, Michael Borders, first argued that the eleven violations were for overweight and axel safety tickets, not for anything driving-related. He also stated that Skeels feels remorse for the accident and is very sorry for what happened, but due to the charges being filed he never could reach out to the family.
Borders did have concerns with the pre-sentence report as it stated Skeels was low risk in all categories, but was not a good candidate for probation based on the victims’ families’ statements. Borders said that Skeels has taken responsibility for the accident and will serve whatever sentence was handed down. Borders asked the court to impose a term of probation and if any jail time were ordered that it be served in the local jail.
Just before being sentenced, Skeels briefly made a comment stating that he was terribly sorry and that he did not want this to happen. Skeels said that he thinks about the accident every day and continues to have nightmares. “I wish I could take that day back,” said Skeels.
Judge Karin Noakes said this type of case is the toughest part of the job where life is lost in an unintentional accident. She stated that this would normally be a traffic infraction if any charges at all, but that this was a needless death. Judge Noakes noted that while Skeels has no significant criminal history, his driving that day was careless and reckless.
She sentenced Skeels to five years of probation and to serve 90 days in the Custer County Jail. Skeels was also ordered not to operate any vehicle that would require a CDL while on probation, not to operate any vehicle for a period of one year, and write apology letters to the victims’ families. Skeels was then remanded into the custody of the Custer County Sherriff.
Thomas Pierce, 36 of Arnold, was sentenced on Thursday after pleading guilty to theft (class IV felony). As part of the plea agreement, Bowers and Pierce’s attorney Michael Borders jointly recommended time served as Pierce has been easy to work with and had been very cooperative during the entire process.
Judge Noakes followed the recommendation and sentenced Pierce to 182 in jail while being given credit for 182 days already served. Pierce was also ordered to serve nine months of post-release supervision.
Sam Payton, 41 of Callaway, was sentenced to jail following a joint recommendation by his attorney Michael Borders, and Custer County Attorney Steve Bowers. After pleading guilty to 3rd-degree domestic assault 2nd offense (class IIIA felony) in January, two additional charges were dropped.
As part of the plea deal, a joint recommendation for one year in the county jail was presented to the court. Judge Noakes followed the recommendation and ordered Payton to serve 364 days in the county jail while also being given credit for four days already served. Payton was also ordered to serve 18 months of post-release supervision following his release from jail.
Airen Popham, 36 of Broken Bow, appeared in court for a progression conference as an agreement had been reached on the case. Popham had agreed to enter the North Central Nebraska Drug Court after an evaluation determined she was a good candidate for the program. Popham pled guilty to one charge of distribution of methamphetamine (class IIA felony) as part of the agreement to enter drug court.
County Attorney Bowers stated in the factual basis that during the execution of a search warrant in August of 2019, baggies of methamphetamine were located in the bedroom where Popham was residing. Popham also stated to investigators that the drugs in the room were hers. Sentencing will now be deferred pending the completion or failure of drug court.
Timothy Murthy-Martinez, 30 of Fruita, CO, appeared for sentencing on one charge of criminal attempt (class IIA felony). During arguments, Bowers stated that Martinez has realized the path he was headed down and decided that it was time to get sober and with that sobriety has received family support.
Martinez’s attorney, Gary Peterson, stated that in the last 90 days Martinez has really made progress and has not gone back to his old ways. Peterson also stated that Martinez has remained sober for over a year and has done a good job with that.
Judge Noakes sentenced Martinez to three years of probation to be served out of Colorado.