12.14.2009

Quigley family addresses court at Whitmill, Flores sentencing 'I WILL NEVER FORGET HER'
Whitmill, Flores sentenced while victim's family, friends look on

A Humboldt County Superior Court judge upheld the plea deals reached in the case of Jason Whitmill and Anthony Flores on Friday, sentencing them - 14 years eight months and three years in prison respectively - for their roles in the 2008 car crash that took the life of a 9year-old girl.

Whitmill, 32, and Flores, 19, were racing at speeds of over 100 mph along State Route 299 on Oct. 6, 2008, when Whitmill's vehicle clipped a sport utility vehicle, causing it to veer from the road, down an embankment and into a utility pole.

Nicole Lynn Quigley, a fourth-grader at Dow's Prairie Elementary School, was killed in the wreck and her mother, Debra Quigley, suffered major injuries. Nicole's twin sister, Ashley, and a family friend were also in the car, but were uninjured in the crash.

Before sentencing the defendants, Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Dale Reinholtsen and a packed courtroom listened to emotional statements from Nicole's friends and family, who talked about the bright life that was lost in the tragic accident.
Addressing the court and the defendants, Nicole's father Ken Quigley read a statement from Ashley.

"My sister was my best friend - we did everything together," he read as sobs and the sound of choked-back tears emanated from throughout the courtroom. "You don't know how much I miss her. ... You took my best friend away from me. She was only 9 years old. I will miss her every second of my life. My sister was the best sister in the world, and I will never forget her."

Reading from a prepared statement of his own, Ken Quigley said that Tuesday Aug. 17, 1999, the day his twin daughters were born, was the happiest of his life. He said his joy only grew as he watched Nicole blossom into an intelligent and beautiful young girl who would come to work with him and tell him that, one day, she would take over the family business.

Flores and Whitmill, Ken Quigley said, took all that away.

"The thought of this makes me sick to my stomach," he said. " The courts cannot impose on you the punishment you deserve."

Some speakers expressed frustration at the plea deals reached by the defendants. Whitmill had faced murder charges for his role in the crash, but wound up pleading guilty to gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, and to driving under the influence causing great bodily injury, as well as to a special allegation of having served three prison terms.

According to Reinholtsen, the deal leaves Whitmill with two strikes on his record, meaning if he is convicted of another strikable offense he would automatically face a prison sentence of 25 years to life.

Flores pleaded guilty to gross vehicular manslaughter and hit-and-run for leaving the scene of the accident, spawning a days-long manhunt.

Deputy District Attorney Maggie Fleming told the court that defense appeals regarding Whitmill's blood being drawn without his consent the day of the accident - while it was still unknown who the driver of the vehicle was - played into her office's decision to accept the plea deals rather than prosecute the case.

Reinholtsen ruled in November that Whitmill's blood was legally drawn. The defense appealed the decision unsuccessfully to an appellate court, then took the matter to the California Supreme Court, which declined to hear the matter.

Fleming said her office was concerned the matter would make any possible conviction in the case susceptible to appeals. As a part of their plea deals, both Whitmill and Flores have agreed to waive all rights to appeal.

After Friday's hearing, Ken Quigley expressed frustration at the way the case was handled by District Attorney Paul Gallegos. He charged that Gallegos was unprepared for court appearances, twice dropped it in the lap of unprepared deputy district attorneys and generally handled it in an unprofessional manner.

"Had this case been handled from the beginning by someone with the experience of Maggie Fleming, it would have had a much different outcome," Ken Quigley said. "I'm not here to knock people, but I'm very disappointed with the way Mr. Gallegos handled this case. Next year can't come soon enough. It is an election year, isn't it?"

Gallegos told the TimesStandard in a previous interview that the case was handled properly from start to finish.
In addressing the court, Nicole's uncle, Mike Quigley, said complaining about the sentence won't do any good. Instead, he vented anger at the defendants and a criminal justice system that released Whitmill from custody less than two weeks before the crash.

"In a just world, none of us would be here because he wouldn't have been on the streets," he said, before turning his attention to both defendants. "You killed a 9year-old girl and neither one of you are man enough to stand up and take responsibility for it. God bless my beautiful niece and her mom and dad and sister, and God damn both of you."

Mike Quigley's comments drew a round of applause from the packed courtroom, which was awash in pink as many members of the Quigley family and their friends were clad in Nicole's favorite color. So many people attended Friday's sentencing that an overflow room was set up, where those who couldn't fit in Reinholtsen's courtroom watched the proceedings via a video feed.

As Nicole's friends and family addressed the court, the defendants sat in the jury box with their lawyers. A stoic Flores sat, clad in an orange jumpsuit, staring at speakers as they addressed the court. Throughout most of the proceedings, Whitmill sat with his eyes cast toward his feet, showing little emotion. Then, Dan Johnson, Nicole's soccer coach, addressed the defendants.

"If you want to take responsibility for your actions, you might start by looking at speakers when they are talking to you," he said, sending Whitmill's eyes darting up to his.

When Sandy Henry addressed the court, she explained that she taught Nicole in her last year at Dow's Prairie before retiring, adding that Nicole was an integral part of her favorite class in 30 years of teaching. Nicole, Henry said, was going to do great things in life. Hearing this, Whitmill began to weep, wiping tears on the shoulder of his orange jumpsuit and again casting his eyes to his feet.

" Three years from now Nicole would have been getting ready to go to high school. Fourteen years from now she would have been graduating from college, getting ready to start a career," Henry said. "I'm at a loss to see equity in this judgment."
Glenn Brown, Whitmill's attorney, also addressed the court, reading a letter from his client.

"On Oct. 6, 2008, I caused the death of your daughter by driving drunk and racing another vehicle," Brown read. "I feel so terribly sorry for the pain I caused your family."

Flores provided no statement to the court.

In handing down the sentences of 14 years and eight months for Whitmill and three years for Flores, Reinholtsen echoed the sentiments of many. " There's no sentence the court can impose that can right this wrong. I recognize that," he said, adding that he hopes the publicity the case drew and the Quigley family's sharing of their pain with the community might make a difference. "Perhaps that will cause someone we don't know, and will never know, to drive in a more safe manner." Many in court Friday talked about the joy that Nicole Lynn Quigley brought to their lives. They spoke of her love for dance, her dedication to her studies and her ability to draw a smile - and the best - from people.

"I know Nicole loved every moment of her life with every ounce of her being," Henry said. "My challenge now is to honor her by finding joy in every moment of my life."

" Thadeus Greenson can be reached at 441-0509 or tgreenson@times-standard.com.
Thadeus Greenson/THE TIMES- STANDARD
Posted: 12/12/2009 09:47:53 AM PST
Updated: 12/14/2009 09:58:57 AM PST
UPDATED:
Quigley family addresses court at Whitmill, Flores sentencing 'I WILL NEVER FORGET HER'
Whitmill, Flores sentenced while victim's family, friends look on
People to speak at Whitmill/Flores proceedings today.
Brief recap:
Quigley family, friends remember 9-year-old Nicole 10/06/09
One of the things Ken Quigley misses most about his daughter is her dancing.
”I don't even know where to begin,” he said about his favorite memories of his daughter Nicole Lynn Quigley. “We miss her so much ... . We miss watching her dance. Dancing was her thing. She danced all over the house.”

Too many delays 9/10/09
On Monday, Aug. 3, the friends and family of Nicole Lynn Quigley once again attended court for what was supposed to be a pre-trial hearing for Jason Whitmill and Anthony Flores and once again Whitmill's attorney, Glen Brown, paid for by you and me, the taxpayer, succeeded in getting the trial date moved out to the end of September. One of Glen Brown's excuses was that he had more important trials scheduled at the same time as this one. Since I am not allowed to speak during court, my question to Glen Brown is, “More important to whom?” After two judges have reviewed the charges against Whitmill and concurred that second-degree murder will stand against Whitmill for his reckless regard for human life, Mr. Brown has now sent the case off to the California Appellate Court in another one of his tactics to delay the inevitable. How this man sleeps at night is beyond me. In the meantime I will be watching very closely for what trials come up around Sept. 8 that are so important that we need to delay some closure to my family and friends and Whitmill's and Flores' trip to the big house.
Kenneth Quigley

Court document: Flores tried to 'subvert' investigation 10/16/08
Vehicular manslaughter suspect has extensive criminal history 11/13/08

It's a hard cold fact that Ken Miller's "concern" contingent is nowhere in sight. Salzman held no candlelight vigils.