Judge orders distracted driver to talk about Harrisville boy he killed

Thursday , July 03, 2014 - 10:30 PM

By ANDREAS RIVERA Standard-Examiner staff

HARRISVILLE -- Nearly a year after the tragic accident that ended the life of 18-year-old Devereaux Hallett, the driver who hit him pleaded guilty to minor traffic charges Wednesday. But the judge ordered him to “take the story of this young man and share it.”

Jeff Hanes, 38, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of failing to yield to a red light and texting while driving. Emotions were tense within the courtroom because the family of Hallett was present and asked that Harrisville Judge Reuben Renstrom to impose the maximum sentence, even though it would never be enough.

On the morning of July 8, 2013, Hallett was on his way to work at the Harrisville Deseret Industries, crossing Wall Avenue at North Street on his bicycle. Hanes was driving southbound on Wall Avenue and according to police reports was distracted by his phone as he approached the intersection. 

Hallett was struck and transported to the hospital in critical condition, but soon declared dead. After an investigation, local authorities could only charge Hanes with two misdemeanor traffic violations and not with felony charges as they could not prove that he was texting just as the collision occurred.

The Halletts have been on an emotional roller-coaster the past year, trying to find justice for the death of their beloved son. Outraged that manslaughter, vehicle homicide or negligent homicide charges were not filed, they took the case to the Utah Attorney’s General Office for review. A few weeks ago however the AG’s office only affirmed the lower courts findings and declined to press further charges. 

During Wednesday’s hearing, Devereaux’s father Mike Hallett was able to address the court for the first time. 

"Justice truly wasn’t served. We’re without our son for life and we can never recover,” Mike Hallett told Judge Renstrom. “It’s such a small price to pay for such a large loss of life. The charges truly don’t represent what happened that morning.”

The Halletts said they felt that the death of their son was chiefly ignored during most of the court proceedings, but were relieved to find at the final hearing that at least Devereaux’s story would be told.

"It’s not lost on me the unimaginable heart break this has caused,“ Renstrom said. ”It’s a tragic situation and there is no amount of fines, no amount of community service and no amount of jail that could bring this young man back.“

The prosecutor and Hanes’ defense attorney said they spent hours discussing a resolution and that they came to the conclusion that youths need to hear about this tragedy and be informed about the dangers of texting and driving.

Renstrom sentenced Hanes to 12 months of probation, to pay a fine of $750, but most importantly to serve 200 hours of community service in which he must visit various local schools and relay to students the dangers of distracted driving and what it has done to his and the Halletts lives. A jail sentence of 270 days was handed down, but suspended.

"If doing this saves but one life, then maybe it’s certainly worth it to avoid the maximum penalties,“ Renstrom said. ”Regardless of what actually happened, this is all clearly a result of your own actions.“

The judge also made it clear that if he finds out if Hanes ever texts and drives again, he will have no hesitations to impose the maximum jail sentence on him.

As Hanes left the court hearing he told media, ”If I could take his place, I would.“

The Hallets took comfort in the fact that only a few months before the accident, Devereaux signed up to be an organ donor. Now many of his organs have saved the lives of several people, including a Salt Lake City father of three who received Devereaux’s heart.

Even with the case concluded, the family’s goal of justice is not over. Stepmother Jeanette Hallett is spearheading an effort to change the law and increase the penalties for distracted driving violations, including the addition of a death enhancement with steeper consequences in case of a fatality.

Contact reporter Andreas Rivera at 801-625-4227 or arivera@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @SE_Andreas.

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