A Columbus woman was sentenced to five years in prison Tuesday morning for causing a fatal crash in Madison County in March after climbing behind the wheel drunk and driving the wrong way on Interstate 70.
Mattison Skoog, 25, pleaded guilty in September to one second-degree felony count of aggravated vehicular homicide and one fourth-degree felony count of vehicular assault.
In Madison County Common Pleas Court Tuesday, Skoog was also ordered to pay a $10,000 fine and all court costs. Her driver’s license was also permanently suspended.
Skoog’s tears joined those of the victim’s family members and her own as she apologized to both.
“At first I was so consumed by my wish to undo the events of that night, and I still pray every day for a way to bring back what was taken and to alleviate your grief,” she said. “To everyone who was hurt by the events of that night, I am so very sorry for all the pain that I’ve caused.”
Just before 2 a.m. on March 24, Skoog was traveling westbound in the eastbound lane of I-70 when her car collided head-on with a minivan near the State Route 29 exit in Madison County.
Maribel Pablo Mijangos, 32, of Columbus, died from injuries sustained in the crash. She was riding in the back seat.
Her husband, 31-year-old Carlos De-La-Fuenta, was driving. Other passengers included three children, ages 2, 3 and 7, and the victim’s sister, 34-year-old Marta Pablo Mijango. They all sustained non-life threatening injuries.
Skoog’s blood alcohol level was 0.19, more than twice the legal limit.
Skoog left a bar in the Grandview Heights neighborhood of Columbus around 1:30 a.m. on March 24 and traveled the wrong way on I-670 and then I-70 for more than 17 miles before striking the minivan, according to a presentencing investigation.
She ordered at least 10 drinks at the bar, and more than 100 people called 911 during the early-morning hour regarding the wrong-way vehicle, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Nick Adkins stated.
Defense: Skoog may have been drugged at bar
Psychologist Dr. James Reardon testified Tuesday that Skoog is suffering from intense survivor’s guilt and that her actions on March 24 were exceedingly uncharacteristic.
“It’s not a situation where she just stayed away from doing bad things in her life up until that moment; in fact her life was characterized by being a responsible, caring person, someone who made service to other people a part of her life for years, for nearly a decade prior to that night,” Reardon said.
“She knows that there’s nothing she can do to make up for what happened that night, for what she did that night, but I think she will probably spend the rest of her life trying to find a way to make up for it the best that she can,” Reardon continued.
Skoog was represented by attorneys Samuel Weiner and Dustin Blake. Weiner suggested his client had been dosed with Rohypnol, a type of date-rape drug.
“If there was ever an incident that should be placed in the dictionary for abnormal conduct, this is it,” he said. “This is a situation that could not have arisen without the intervention of something about which we have no information.”
Judge Eamon Costello challenged the defense theory, which stated a bartender spiked a drink intended for an irritable third party, who briefly joined Skoog and her boyfriend around 10:20 p.m. the night of March 23.
Websites on the effects of the date-rape drug state symptoms would kick in within 20 to 30 minutes and peak within two hours, he said.
Costello said the theory doesn’t explain why the drug would not have affected Skoog until three hours later when she left the bar.
Symptoms of Rohypnol include a “paralysis state” or an individual appearing “falling down drunk,” but video from the bar shows Skoog “leaving the bar under her own power,” Costello added.
Blood drawn from Skoog after the crash on March 24 was not stored by the hospital and could not be tested for the presence of Rohypnol.
“We have no proof that it was administered, but we have no proof that it was not administered either,” Weiner responded.
Adkins called the defense argument an “attempt to minimize responsibility.”
Reliving his wife’s death
De-La-Fuenta, the victim’s husband, described the night and aftermath of the accident with the aid of a translator.
He relived for the court the screams of his sister-in-law; the sight of his wife laying on the road next to the retaining wall; his attempts to give her first-aid until the paramedics arrived; the “pain and sorrow and tears” that “took over” when he learned Maribel had died; requesting a Bible to go pray beside her body in the hospital; the ache he feels when one of his children asks for Mommy.
The accident also impacted the family financially through medical bills and the loss of a caregiver.
“I know in heaven, she has forgiven her,” De-La-Fuenta said of his wife and Skoog.
But his family’s life has changed forever, he said.
“When you start drinking, you know what you’re doing,” he said. “Even if you don’t remember, you know what you’re ingesting and putting in your body.”
Skoog’s mother, Lee Skoog, and Mijangos’ sister, Marta, also spoke during the sentencing hearing.
Costello noted Skoog has no prior convictions and her record contains only a speeding ticket.
“These offenses are tragic in every respect,” he said. “It’s a mistake through a series of poor choices on one night and the worst possible result you can have.”
The victims expressed forgiveness, but there are still consequences, and in the future, there will be more choices to be made, Costello told Skoog.
“You can choose to make this a positive result,” he said, “or you can let it eat you up.”
Reach Audrey Ingram at 740-852-1616, ext. 1615 or on Twitter @Audrey.MP