Woman sentenced to 10 years' probation for '11 vehicular homicide

acarlson@ledger-enquirer.comSeptember 27, 2013 

Following tearful court testimony from both sides, Nalani Walton was sentenced Friday to 10 years' probation as a first offender for homicide by vehicle in the first degree after hitting and killing a 52-year-old veteran.

On June 2, 2011, a little after midnight, Walton hit Walter Cooper as he was crossing the street at the intersection of 13th Street and Fifth Avenue.

After hitting Cooper, Walton -- who said at the time she was driving between 35 and 40 miles per hour -- called 911 and waited at the scene. Cooper was taken to the hospital with facial lacerations, a dislocated right elbow and toe and other injuries.

He later died of complications from the crash, authorities said.

Walton was the only eyewitness, and had the opportunity to keep driving and chose not to, a fact which defense attorney Stacey Jackson pointed to as a mark of character.

"She did what a lot of people wouldn't have done," Jackson said.

Walton told police that she did not see Cooper until he crashed into her car. Cooper was hit by the front left bumper of Walton's 2006 Nissan.

A later reconstruction of the accident, discussed in court Friday, confirmed Walton's version of events, though authorities were unable to corroborate Walton's claim that she was not speeding.

Prosecutor Jennifer Cooley said Walton failed two sobriety tests at the scene and later tested positive for marijuana and Oxycontin.

Also present Friday was Cooper's younger sister, Patrcia Cooper Felton, who addressed the court.

She said her older brother was staying just blocks from where he was struck.

"He was a good person, even though he did have faults," Felton said. When he was hit, Cooper's blood alcohol content was 0.227, almost three times the legal limit.

Felton said her brother was a veteran who had been to rehab. She said her mother had been particularly affected: Cooper was her oldest child. While speaking, Felton stopped multiple times to collect herself.

Walton also spoke. With a breaking voice, she apologized for Cooper's family's unimaginable loss.

"One of my biggest fears in life was to hit someone. … I can't imagine what his mother, his family has gone through," she said, adding, "I lost it, clearly."

Walton pleaded guilty to the count of homicide by vehicle in the first degree (merged with two additional counts of the same). She sought first offender status under the First Offender Act. Jackson cited her clean record, with only two previous citations -- one for speeding and one for not wearing her seat belt.

Judge William Rumer granted Walton first offender status, sentencing her to 10 years' probation. As a first offender, Walton will not have a conviction and the case will be sealed from her official criminal history.

In addition to the probation, Walton agreed to a Fourth Amendment Waiver and will be evaluated for drugs. Under that agreement, she may be drug tested without a warrant. If there are drugs present, she must complete a treatment program.

Homicide by vehicle can carry a sentence up to 15 years.

Afterward, Felton said she expected Walton would serve time.

"(Walton) walked away with a slap on the wrist," she said.

Related stories:

UPDATE: Columbus woman charged with vehicular homicide in 2011 pedestrian crash

UPDATE: 74-year-old driver involved in Cpl. Keith Slay's fatal crash released on bond

Correction: Nalani Walton was sentenced to 10 years' probation, not 10 months'.

Ledger-Enquirer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service