WEBER COUNTY, Utah -- A year after a car hit and killed a Weber County teenager the driver pleaded guilty, but the case played out in traffic court.
Jeff Hanes now admits he ran a red light and was texting while driving. The victim’s family wanted jail time. Instead, Hanes will do community service and pay fines.
It’s the end of a long and emotional case that the victim’s family even took to the Utah Attorney General, hoping the office would file felony charges. But the family was denied.
On July 8, 2013, 18-year-old Devereaux Hallett was crossing Wall Avenue at North Street. He was heading to work when Jeff Hanes ran a red light, hit and killed Hallett, who was on his bike in the crosswalk.
"If I could take his place I would," Jeff Hanes said of the victim.
Weber County prosecutors said Hanes denied texting behind the wheel earlier, but on Wednesday he pleaded guilty in Harrisville Justice Court.
"We feel like it was the most blatant case of texting and driving there ever was," said Mike Hallett, the victim’s father.
However, Weber County prosecutors declined to file a felony charge such as negligent homicide, saying they didn't have the evidence to get a conviction.
The Utah Attorney General's Office agreed, saying in a letter to the Hallett family, "there is a distinct and significant factual question regarding whether the state could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the conduct of "texting while driving" occurred during or simultaneous to the collision which caused Dev Hallett's death."
"Nothing can bring him back, but it was better than we expected,” said Dev’s great-grandmother, Maxine Jamison.
The judge ordered Jeff Hanes to pay more than $700 in fines, plus a year of probation and 200 hours of community service. Hanes has to speak to school kids about the dangers of texting while driving. The Halletts had mixed reaction to the sentence.
"I feel good that he'll go out and do community service, and it finally recognizes that my grandson was taken from me," said Hal Hallett, the victim’s grandfather
But Dev’s step-mother, Jeanette Hallett, said: "I think he should have done the jail time and the community service and have the fines. I mean, how is the public going to be informed that this is serious?”
The judge felt, even if he gave Hanes the maximum punishment, it still wouldn't have the justice the Halletts were looking for. The prosecutor said Utah’s new texting law needs an enhancement when the accident causes a death. Now that the case is over, the Halletts said they can focus more on working with lawmakers to make the law tougher.