HAMILTON, Ohio – Michele Schuster, the driver who killed a utility worker and young mother and injured three others in West Chester last year, will spend 16 years behind bars and will never drive again, a judge ruled Thursday.
Police said Schuster, 24, was high on Xanax in April of 2015 when she crashed into a truck on Cox Road, striking four workers. One of the victims, 24-year-old Amber Rooks, died from her injuries.
“If I could turn back time, or trade places with Amber, I would in a heartbeat,” Schuster said. “I re-live that day over and over, and I’m sorry to the victims, I’m sorry to the families, and I’m sorry to my family.”
Last month, a Butler County jury found Schuster guilty of a aggravated vehicular homicide, three counts of aggravated vehicular assault and OVI. Judge Keith Spaeth sentenced her to eight years for vehicular homicide and suspended her driver license for life. Additionally, she was sentenced to shorter sentences which will run consecutively for the vehicular assault counts.
Schuster's attorney, Lawrence Hawkins, said they would appeal the sentence.
Hawkins asked the judge for a minimum sentence and that they be run concurrently. Hawkins said Schuster had no prior felony record, no prior violent offenses and no prior OVI offenses.
Hawkins reiterated their defense that Schuster had not willingly taken Xanax before the crash. During the trial, she said she had been drugged by a man who described himself as her "sugar daddy."
"We're asking that the court's sentence be one that shows mercy and grace," Hawkins said.
Some family members of victims spoke against a minimum sentence. Shannon Dethlefs, Rooks’ mother, said Rooks was a single mom, whose son is now 9 years-old.
“All he wants is his mom back,” Dethlefs said. "When he asks me why, I can't explain that ... his world is shattered."
Laura Dunham, the sister of one of the victims who survived, said her brother suffered a traumatic brain injury and numerous broken and fractured bones. He has double vision in one eye, has no control over his bladder and will probably lose the use of one leg. He spent more than a year in the hospital.
“He’s living, but he’s not,” Dunham said.