FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) A man convicted last month of reckless homicide in the March 2014 death of a Bishop Dwenger student was sentenced Monday in Allen Superior Court.
Jeremy Washington was sentenced to seven years in prison and two additional years of probation on charges of reckless homicide, causing death when operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, causing serious bodily injury when operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, and criminal recklessness while armed with a deadly weapon. The sentence was handed down just over a month after a jury found him guilty of four of 11 charges in the death of 17-year-old Haley Nellum.
That jury acquitted Washington then of additional felony charges including murder.
The defense started the morning, calling six witnesses to testify to Washington’s character. Those included his wife, mother, and several friends. All of them talked about what a hardworking, loyal, and good person he is, noting how he’s a victim in this case as well as Nellum and calling the night a “terrible mistake.” His father-in-law, parent’s pastor, a coworker, and friend all told the judge how much they think of Washington. They describe him as an “all-around good guy” who had met their families, been to their homes, and even gone on vacations with them on multiple occasions.
His wife was very emotional, telling the Nellums she and her family pray for them and Haley every day. The couple has known each other for twelve years, and been married almost seven. She talked about what a wonderful father Washington is to their two daughters, and how the last 33 days since the conviction have been some of the hardest of their lives.
Washington’s mother talked about her son being one of four boys and always being responsible and helpful. She said “even though he’s not the oldest, he always took the lead role.”
The prosecution followed by also having six witnesses testify how they’ve been impacted by Nellum’s death each and every day since the crash. Her parents and sister as well as a coach and the Bishop Dwenger principal all recalled what a legacy she’s left behind and how much she is missed by all the lives she’s touched.
The principal talked for several minutes about his former student, saying:
“The loss of a child is one of life’s greatest sorrows. Haley was universally loved by all. She was more than the iconic smile and a natural inspiration for all. She was someone everyone gravitated towards. You can’t forget someone like Haley. She will continue to live in our hearts and memories.”
Haley’s basketball coach told the judge he’s coached for 30 years and never had an athlete touch him the way the Nellum sisters have. He said they have changed his lives.
Haley’s father looked directly at Washington as he testified, saying:
“The person had a choice to do what they did to someone’s 17-year-old daughter. It’s a shame we had to go through all of this. He might be a good person, but he made a bad choice. I forgive him, but I won’t forget.”
Haley’s sister told the judge how much she misses her older sister, saying:
“Nothing is the same without her. She was just a good person to everybody. I will never find another friend like how she was to me.”
Her mom finished the prosecution testimonies, talking about how her daughter would be a senior in high school this year and getting ready to go to college. She told the judge:
“So many lives have changed since Haley was killed. I’m reminded of her in almost everything I see. She is everywhere and at the same time no where. What has been done to Haley has been done to all of her family and friends. There is nothing that could possibly right this wrong. It’s an unbelievable price to pay for someone else’s actions.”
Jeremy Washington also talked for the first time throughout the trial and sentencing. He apologized to the Nellums and the other crash victims, saying:
“I was put in a situation, and I made bad decisions. I was trying to save me and my passenger’s life. Haley lost her life, and I am sorry for that. I know nothing I say will make it better, but me and my family pray that God takes away the pain to help you get through this.”
After more than two hours of emotional testimonies, Judge Surbeck handed down the nine year sentence, saying:
“This is one of those very difficult cases. OWI’s resulting in death usually are. My obligation is to weigh all of the facts and circumstances. If one were to look solely at one side of the case, it would make it a lot easier. If I just look at Haley’s side, Jeremy Washington would never see daylight again. If I just look at Mr. Washington’s side, he would walk out of here with a minimal level of community supervision. This incident has significantly impacted this entire community. Sadly, Haley is not here to see all of the respect and acknowledgement of all she did for this community. In the meantime, it’s very clear that Mr. Washington is not a bad man. He did a very bad thing and had very bad judgement. Each family will miss their person.”
Washington told Judge Surbeck, who presided over the case, he plans to appeal the sentence.
After the sentencing hearing, Allen County Deputy Prosecutor Adam Mildred talked to NewsChannel 15 about the case. He said he thought Judge Surbeck did a good job of balancing all of the factors in the complicated case to arrive at his decision.
“This was no accident. This was no mistake. It was a crash. We’ve articulated those things, and that’s one of the reasons for the presentation that the state made. He drove through an intersection, a red light, at 102 miles an hour, causing the death of one and injured another and endangered another. Any senseless death such as this has to have an impact on the community, but one of the things that’s very important is that we’ve seen a superior performance by the Fort Wayne Police Department. They made a statement as far as their work, and then also, you heard from the Bishop Dwenger family speaking so ably on Haley’s behalf. No sentence will bring Haley Nellum back, will prevent the injury that was done to Clayton DeLong or the endangerment of Gary Fredriech. So, we hope that there is some peace at the end for their respective families,” Mildred said.