Prison sentence in fatal Columbia crash

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Michael Vanderschans

A Missouri man was sentenced to prison this week in connection with a September 2018 crash in Columbia that claimed the life of a local woman.

The sentence for 35-year-old Michael B. Vanderschans of Winfield, Mo., is two years in the Illinois Department of Corrections to be served at 50 percent and with credit for two days already served.

He was also fined $589 and ordered to pay restitution of $3,222.38 to Robert Thoma, father of crash victim Stacie Thoma.

Stacie, a 37-year-old employee of the bakery at Schnucks Market Place in Columbia and a 1999 graduate of Columbia High School, was leaving her job the evening of Sept. 2, 2018, when the crash occurred. 

Stacie Thoma

Vanderschans was the driver of a Ford F-150 that was traveling south on Route 3 in Columbia when it collided with Stacie’s 2002 Buick sedan, which was turning left from Veterans Parkway onto northbound Route 3. 

Vanderschans entered a guilty plea to reckless homicide in February for his role in the fatal crash. A contested sentencing hearing took place Thursday at the Monroe County Courthouse in Waterloo with Judge Dennis Doyle presiding.

The charge states that Vanderschans drove his truck at a speed “greater than was reasonable and proper with regard to the existing traffic conditions and the safety of persons properly on the roadway and at a time when he was reading a GPS map from a handheld cellular phone, (when) he entered into (the intersection) in disobedience to the steady red traffic control lights at the intersection.”

Monroe County State’s Attorney Chris Hitzemann said that during Thursday’s hearing, Columbia Police Department Det. Sgt. Karla Heine provided a synopsis of the investigation, including statements by those who had witnessed the event.

“We also presented video of the crash that had been captured by surveillance cameras over at the high school, which showed the defendant had a red light at the time of the accident and Stacie was the fourth car through the intersection,” Hitzemann said.

Vanderschans’ Missouri driving privileges were suspended at the time of the accident, Hitzemann added, and the truck he was driving was not insured.

Hitzemann’s presentation concluded with impassioned remarks from Stacie’s sister, Stephanie DuVall.  

Since Class 3 felony reckless homicide carries presumptions of probation, Hitzemann said his office had to prove statutory factors of aggravation in its argument for prison time.

“This case differed from most contested sentencing hearings we have in that the defendant did not have a criminal history (a factor in aggravation that we typically argue),” Hitzemann said. “Here, we focused on the aggravating factor ‘sentence necessary to deter others’ and tailored our evidence and argument around that factor.”  

Hitzemann argued that distracted driving is impaired driving.

“In sentencing this defendant, nothing that the court imposed would be able to bring Stacie back, but a sentence to the Department of Corrections would send a strong message that if you drive distracted and take a life, there will be strong consequences,” Hitzemann concluded. “I was happy that the judge found that we had overcome the presumptions in sentencing the defendant to the Department of Corrections.”

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