By Will Kangas
Penalties for drunken drivers are stiff, but Todd Sondey could face the toughest sentence of all -- life in prison -- for his role in a crash that took the life of 20-year-old Spring Arbor University student Amanda Hale last month.
Second-degree murder charges will be brought against Sondey, 34, of Spring Arbor as a result of the midnight crash Sept. 20 on M-60 near Moscow Road in Spring Arbor Township, Jackson County Prosecutor John McBain said Monday.
Sondey continues to rehabilitate in a Romulus medical care facility after receiving severe head wounds. He is expected to be released in four to six weeks and sheriff’s deputies will be there to greet him with a warrant, McBain said. If convicted, it would be Sondey's third drunken driving offense.
"Sondey's reckless driving and unlawful blood-alcohol level show such wanton and willful disregard of the likely tendency to cause death that our office issued a second degree murder charge!" McBain said.
Sondey had a preliminary blood-alcohol level of 0.16 when he passed two semi-trailers and a police car while driving about 100 mph eastbound on M-60, police said.
In Michigan, operating a vehicle with a blood-alcohol level of 0.10 or more is considered operating under the influence and against the law. Levels of 0.08 and 0.09 are considered impaired and also illegal.
Sondey's car crossed the centerline and ran head-on into Hale's car. Both were flown to the University of Michigan Hospital, where Hale died the next day.
Hale, whose parents are co-pastors of a Free Methodist church in Wallaceburg, Ontario, was majoring in music at Spring Arbor University.
Prosecutors also have a signed warrant calling for two other charges: operating under the influence of liquor causing death, a 1 5-year felony, and operating under the influence of liquor, third offense felony, which carries a five-year maximum sentence.
Sondey was driving on a suspended license.
Reach reporter Will Kangas at firstname.lastname@example.org or 768-4926.
A 34-year-old Spring Arbor man was charged with murder Monday afternoon after being in a car accident that took the life of a 20-year-old Spring Arbor University student.
Todd M. Sondey was taken into custody from a medical rehabilitation center in Romulus and brought to Jackson. He was charged with second degree murder for his role in the Sept. 20 crash that resulted in the death of Amanda Hale of Canada.
Shortly before midnight on Sept. 20, Sondey's car crossed the centerline on M-60 near Moscow Road and hit Hale's car head-on. Sondey had a blood alcohol level of 0.16 and was driving more than 100 mph, said Jackson County Sheriff’s Department investigators.
Prosecutor John McBain requested District Judge Carlene Lefere to consider Sondey a flight risk and dangerous and to set a high bond. Lefere set bond at $100,000 and required Sondey be tested on a regular basis for alcohol use. Sondey remained lodged at the Jackson County Jail this morning.
If convicted, Sondey could face up to life in prison. He also was charged with operating under the influence of liquor causing death, a 15-year felony, and operating under the influence of liquor third offense, which carries a five-year maximum sentence.
Sondey signed a petition to have a court-appointed attorney represent him. Lefere set a preliminary exam for Nov. 29.
Saturday, December 1, 2001
By Steven HepkerStaffWriter
A Spring Arbor man accused of second-degree murder in a fatal car crash Sept. 20 will be evaluated by state psychologists before he faces further court action.
Sheriffs investigators allege Todd M. Sondey, 34, was driving drunk at 100 mph on M-60 when he crossed the center line near Moscow Road just before midnight. The head-on crash killed Amanda Hale, 2O, a Spring Arbor University student from Canada.
Deputies said Sondey had a blood-alcohol level of 0. 16. The legal limit is 0. 10.
It was his third arrest for drunken driving, officials said. In addition to the murder charge, he also faces counts of operating under the influence of liquor causing death, and operating under the influence of liquor, third offense. He faces up to life in prison if found guilty of murder.
Defense attorney Alfred Brandt sought a mental evaluation to determine if Sondey understands the charges and is capable of helping in his defense.
"He suffered a closed-head injury with extensive trauma," Brandt said Friday. ,He has been taking a massive amount of medication, five or six prescription drugs."
Brandt said Sondey has improved but has no memory of the crash and his mentalcapacity has been dulled by injury and medication.
District Judge Carlene Lefere adjourned the preliminary hearing this week and ordered the testing.
Sondey was treated at a the University of Michigan Hospital and at a medical rehabilitation center in Romulus after the crash.
He remains in the Jackson County Jail in lieu of $100,000 bond. The next hearing is Dec. 20, but officials say it is unlikely his mental evaluation report will be available this month.
Reach reporter Steven Hepker at email@example.com or 768-4923.
By Steven Hepker
A township officer and deputy testify in a hearing for a man accused in the Spring Arbor University student's death.
Officer Brian Harmison was on patrol about midnight Sept. 20 when a black car sped eastward through Spring Arbor, passing three tractor-trailers on M-60.
"I tried to catch up, but he was a half mile ahead," Harmison testified Thursday. "I was doing 100 mph and it looked like he was still pulling away."
Amanda Hale, a 20-year old Spring Arbor Ford Probe from her westbound Chevrolet Celebrity. Miss Hale was able to perceive a threat Breining testified, based on skid marks on M-60 west of Moscow Road.
But Todd M. Sondey, of 222 Teft Road,apparently never touched his brakes.Instead, Breining said, his car hit the right berm at an estimated 74 mph, spun back onto the pavement at 70 mph and collided head-on with Hale's car.
Sondey was bound over for trial in Jackson County Circuit Court, where he will be formally charged on March 19.
Harmison, a Spring Arbor Township officer, was so far back that he didn't see either car when he crested a hill west of the crash. The cars were mangled on the north side of the road -- the Probe on its roof, the Celebrity on its side against a tree.
Hale, whose parents are Free Methodist ministers in Wallaceburg, Ontario, died the next day at the University of Michigan Hospital.
They sobbed through the hearing Thursday, exactly five months from the date of their daughter's death. Prosecutor John McBain and defense attorney Alfred Brandt agreed to submit the autopsy report without testimony, sparing the family further anguish.
Sondey, 34, who received head injuries, had a blood-alcohol level of 0.16 that night, investigators said. The threshold for driving under the influence of liquor is 0.10.
He underwent psychological evaluation recently and was found competent to stand trial. Sondey, who did not speak at his preliminary hearing Thursday, remains in the Jackson County Jail.
The chief issue Thursday was whether the allegations rose to the level of second-degree murder, a potential life offense.
"Is there a level of misconduct that goes beyond drunk driving?" District Judge Carlene Lefere said in summing up the legal test for the murder charge.
"Voluntary intoxication is not a defense !" McBain said, calling Sondey's actions "wanton and willful."
Sondey had been convicted twice in recent years on drunken-driving offenses, and was driving without a license, McBain said.
"This is the worst drunk-driving case I've ever prosecuted," McBain said. "His driving pattern was just so dangerous and without regard for the health or potential death of others."
He based the second-degree murder charge on a 1989 state Supreme Court ruling.
Lefere accepted the second-degree murder charge, saying there was probable cause against Sondey based on the evidence. McBain said it will be his first drunken-driving case tried as a murder.
Lefere bound Sondey over on second-degree murder and three other charges: operating under the influence causing death; operating under the influence, third offense; and driving while license suspended causing death.
By Steven Hepker
Jackson County will hold its first murder trial involving an alleged drunken driving fatality.
Circuit Judge Edward Grant ruled Friday not to dismiss a charge of second degree murder against Todd M. Sondey.
"He was a young man looking for an accident to occur," Grant said in rejecting a motion by defense attorney Alfred Brandt to drop the murder charge.
Brandt argued the more appropriate charge is operating under the influence causing death.
Sondey, 34, of Spring Arbor will face a jury trial April 29 on the murder charge plus operating under the influence causing death, driving while license suspended causing death and OUIL third offense.
He is accused of causing the death of 20-year-old Spring Arbor University student Amanda Hale on Sept. 20. Police said he was speeding at more than 100 mph and driving recklessly just before the crash on M-60.
He lost control and collided with Hale's westbound car. Hale, of Wallaceburg, Ontario, died the next day at the University of Michigan Hospital.
Witnesses testified at his preliminary hearing he passed an eastbound tractor-trailer in Spring Arbor and two other tractor-trailers east of town at a high rate of speed and in no-passing zones.
"We contend his car was a speeding bullet on wheels," Prosecutor John McBain said after Grant's ruling.
Brandt argued there was no testimony about reckless driving, and that Sondey's speed of 74 mph at the time of the crash did not warrant the murder charge, which carries a sentence of any amount of years up to life in prison.
Grant agreed with McBain, that the court should consider the "totality" of Sondey's driving pattern. He was twice convicted of drunken driving and did not have a valid license at the time of the crash.
Reach reporter Steven Hepker at firstname.lastname@example.org or 768-4923.
2002 Jackson Citizen Patriot. Used with permission Copyright 2002 Michigan Live. All Rights Reserved.
By Brian Wheeler
The driver facing a murder charge in the death of a Spring Arbor University sophomore was "a bullet on wheels," the Jackson County prosecutor said this morning before the trial began.
Jurors will decide whether Todd M. Sondey is guilty of second-degree murder in the Sept. 20 crash that killed student Amanda Hale. Prosecutors contend he was drunk when his car slammed into Hale's car on M 60. Jury selection began this morning, and Prosector John McBain predicted the case would last about a day.
ln an unusual request, McBain asked Circuit Judge Edward Grant’s permission to bus jurors to the accident scene. I think it would be helpful, particularly for the jury, to see the area," McBain said. "We have pictures, but it's nothing like seeing the area for themselves."
Grant didn't rule on the request immediately but appeared skeptical, saying that looking at pictures would be "better than having 12 people run around Spring Arbor Road."
Sondey, 34, of Spring Arbor is the first person involved in an alleged drunken driving death to be tried for murder in Jackson County. Prosecutors have pushed the more severe charge based partly on his past record, which included two drunken driving convictions. He also was driving without a license, authorities said. Police said he was driving at more than 100 mph before the accident and was traveling 74 mph when his car collided with Hale's near Moscow Road.
This month, Grant rejected a defense request to dismiss the murder charge. Sondey also faces charges of operating under the influence causing death, driving while license suspended causing death and operating under the influence.
The death of Hale, a 20-year-old, sent shock waves through her school. Her parents are co-pastors of a Free Methodist church in Wallaceburg, Ontario. She was studying music and education, and played trumpet in the chapel band.
Several of her relatives turned out this morning in Grant's courtroom.
Reach reporter Brian Wheeler at email@example.com or 768-4928.
2002 Jackson Citizen Patriot. Used with permission
Copyright 2002 Michigan Live. All Rights Reserved.
Todd M. Sondey almost certainly will go to prison for the car crash that left a Spring Arbor University student dead. The only suspense now is how long he'll stay there.
A jury will weigh Sondey's guilt or innocence today, a day after his attorney conceded the Spring Arbor man was drunk and driving without a license when he caused Amanda Hale's death in September.
Still, attorney Alfred Brandt insisted, his client's actions don't justify the second-degree murder charge that Sondey faces."What (the prosecution) will prove beyond a reasonable doubt is involuntary manslaughter," Brandt said in his opening statement in a Jackson courtroom Monday. "There vvill not be proof that he knowingly created a high risk of death.
Hale, a 20-year-old sophomore, died of injuries from the Sept. 20 crash on M1-60, one authorities say an intoxicated Sondey caused. Driving 100 mph, he lost control of his Ford Probe just west of Moscow Road and slammed into Hale.
Hale, who was studying music and education, was returning home from baby-sitting with a $10 check for her work, Prosecutor John McBain said."That check was never cashed. It will never be cashed. Amanda Hale is dead," McBain told the jury.
The trial will resume this morning with closing arguments.
Brandt agreed with McBain that Sondey, should be found guilty of three charges: operating under the influence causing death, driving while license suspended causing death and a third offense of operating under the influence.
The main disagreement is whether Sondey should be the first drunken driver involved in a Jackson County fatality to be found guilty of murder. The difference between that and manslaughter isn't petty: Murder can lead to a life sentence, while manslaughter carries up to 15 years in prison.
McBain said Sondey's recklessness added up to murder. He had been twice convicted of drunken driving and lost his driver's license in January 1998.
Spring Arbor police Officer Bryan Harmison testified that Sondey sped past three tractor-trailers along the village's rnain road just before midnight and drove about 80 mph ....45 mph above the speed limit. Harmison vainly tried to keep up while driving 100 mph.
Two county sheriffis deputies who reconstructed the crash said Sondey veered onto the road's shoulder and fish-tailed out of control into the road's westbound lane7 where he hit Hale. She braked but had almost no time to react.
"We have in this case this extraordinary pattern of reckless driving!" McBain said. "We have the lethal and deadly combination of drunk driving and reckless driving."
Hale's parents, Irving and Glenda, watched the legal action in person Monday after traveling from Wallaceburg, Ontario, where both are pastors of a Free Methodist church. They were joined by a small group of family and friends.
They admitted to some mixed feelings at what they saw. "The problem is, even if he's convicted, it's not going to bring Amanda back!" Glenda Hale said.
"It's been a big strain for us" her husband added. "We're used to being in front of the public with the church. They look to us for answers, and sometimes we don't have them."
Reach reporter Brian Wheeler at firstname.lastname@example.org or 768-4928.
A man has been convicted of murder in the impaired driving death of a Wallaceburg woman.
Amanda Hale, 20, died in September 2001 of injuries sustained in an accident in Jackson County, Mich., where she was a student at Spring Arbor University.
A jury found Todd Sondey guilty of second degree murder and three other charges on Tuesday, April 30, after less than two hours of deliberation. The trial opened the day before.
It is the first time a drunk driver has been convicted of the charge in Jackson County, although there have been convictions in other parts of Michigan.
Sondey was also found guilty of impaired driving causing death, driving under suspension and driving while impaired third conviction.
Sentencing is scheduled to take place May 16.
In a statement, Hale's parents, Irving and Glenda, said, "For us, all of this is a bittersweet victory. We have still lost our daughter Amanda. No number of charges, verdicts or years of sentence will ever return things to as they were. But our prayer is that other families will be spared the horror we have had to face at the hands of this drunk driver.'
The Hales also said the verdict sends a strong message that drinking and driving is a serious offence.
"Now if only we can convince the judicial system on this side of the border to become just as aggressive."
The Hales credited the legal system in the United States for bringing the matter to a conclusion in less than eight months and for taking a hard line on drunk driving offences.
"In the case of Amanda's death we have had the opportunity to be directly involved with the prosecution office in Jackson, Mich., as well as becoming personally acquainted with the police officers involved in the investigation and crash reconstruction.
"We can't say too much about the way we have been treated and the support we have received from the prosecution office, the Jackson County Victims Rights Unit, as well as the local chapter of MADD."
They added, "Maybe there are some lessons our system can learn from this."
Reached by telephone, assistant prosecuting attorney Nick Mehalco said Sondey will serve a minimum of 15 years in jail before he is eligible for parole.
According to Mehalco the judge can pursue two possible paths in sentencing: Sondey can be sentenced to life in prison and have his case reviewed by a parole board after serving 20 to 25 years. Alternatively, the judge can sentence him to a term of between 15 and 25 years and he will have to serve at least as long as the judge decides before being eligible for parole.
Of the conviction for second degree murder, Mehalco said there are three ways in which a person can be guilty. The first is intent to kill, the second is intent to commit bodily harm and the third is knowingly creating a dangerous situation that results in death or bodily harm.
It was this third aspect the prosecution team pursued. Mehalco said Sondey drove drunk and in a reckless manner that saw him reach speeds of 160 kilometres per hour; he passed large trucks in nopassing zones and was clocked doing 130 kilometres per hour in a 55-kilometre-per-hour zone.
Mehalco noted the conviction is bittersweet and complimented Irving and Glenda Hale for the activist role they have taken on.
"The Hales are wonderful people. We are so sorry that they had to experience this terrible, terrible, tragedy."
Last week, a Jackson County jury declared a dramatic shift in community values in convicting a drunken driver of second-degree murder. Consider the verdict carefully, all who drink and then drive, for it means that the war on drunken driving has become deadly serious.
Murder? How does a motorist become a murderer for having caused someone's death in a traffic accident? Isn't the offense normally called manslaughter or negligence? In the past, yes. However, Michigan nowadays has four different criminal statutes that could be applied when death results from a motorist's driving. From least to most severe, they are: negligent homicide, OUIL causing death, involuntary manslaughter and second-degree murder.
A national precedent was set in 1997, when a North Carolina jury convicted a drunken driver of first-degree murder. That was the first time a U.S. jury convicted someone on capital charges in a drunken-driving case. Since then, public anger has supported the imposition of increasingly severe charges in other states.
Jackson County citizens became part of the trend with the conviction of Todd M. Sondey, 34, of Spring Arbor, of multiple charges, including second-degree murder, in the death of a 20-year-old Spring Arbor University music student,Amanda Hale.
That is notable if you consider past practice. Juries have been notoriously easy on drunken drivers, for many citizens would look at the defendant and think, "There,but for the grace of God, go I." That old leniency has grown cold. Too many innocent people have died because of drunken drivers. Too many family members and others have enabled and excused drunken drivers. Our laws have for too long amounted to ...0h...a slap on the wrist.
That all changed with the elevation of the worst drunken-driving cases to murder. In order to pin a murder rap on, Sondey' Prosecutor John McBain had to prove that the defendant showed malice. How? By arguing that Sondey acted in willful disregard of the natural likelihood that his actions would cause death or great bodily harm, and by citing some aggravating circumstances.
Did Sondey, in his aicohoi-induced state, do that? The prosecutor argued yes, and the jury agreed. indeed, this was an egregious case. Having become legally drunk,Sondey drove up to 100 mph down a state highway (M60) while pursued by a police officer. Furthermore, this was Sondey's thircl OUiL offense and he was driving with a suspended license.
Murder is a harsh word. Sondey's conviction as a murderer is likely to bring him a long prison term, atleast 15 years minimum. We hope it will be a wake-up call for every motorist with a drinking problem.
NO, YOU needn't jump in your car and intend to kill someone with it. All you need do in Michigan is to drink, get behind the wheel and drive maliciously, in such a way that you ought to know you are likely to cause someone's everlasting grief.
The Jackson Citizen Patriot
2002 Jackson Citizen Patriot. Used with permission Copyright 2002 Michigan Live. All Rights Reserved.
An American man who killed a 20-year-old Wallaceburg woman in a drunk-driving case was sentenced yesterday to life in prison.
Todd Sondey, 34, is the first person to be convicted of second-degree murder in a drunk-driving case in Jackson County, Mich. He will be eligible for parole in 20 years. It was his third drunk-driving offence.
Sondey was driving an estimated 160 kilometre an hour on Sept. 20, 2001, when he lost control of his girlfriend's car in the small town of Spring Arbor, Mich., and collided with Amanda Hale's car, police said.
Hale, who had been studying music at Spring Arbor University, died the next day.
"It won't bring Amanda back but our goal was to prevent this from happening to another family.'' Amanda's mother, Rev. Glenda Hale, said yesterday from her Wallaceburg home.
Amanda dreamed of becoming a music teacher after finishing her education with a double major in trumpet and piano.
The sentencing of Amanda's killer marks the end of one chapter in the Hales's tragic story.
"We should be getting on with life, but it's not something you get over," Glenda Hale said. "Our life will never be the same."
The deadly crash took away Glenda and Irving Hale's only child. Both are rninisters in the region.
Glenda Hale recalled the hours her daughter would practise her music in the house. She's reminded of the death now by the silence. "It's much too quiet now."
"I have questioned why God let this happen," she said of her loss. "I haven't received my answer."
"Amanda was a fighter. My goal was to see that she get justice."
A memorial scholarship fund has been set up in Amanda's name at the university.
A jury found Sondey guilty of second-degree murder, drunken driving causing death, third-offence drunken driving and driving while his licence was suspended causing death.
Jackson County Circuit Judge Edward Grant noted Sondey's previous convictions during sentencing.
"The Hales will have to live the rest of their lives with the results of your actions because you are completely irresponsible," Grant said.
Glenda Hale asked Sondey to look at her and remember "the face of a mother whose heart you broke by murdering my only child." Sondey did not look up.