Tomlinson pleads guilty to three traffic charges

FORT?DODGE?-Ruth Tomlinson pleaded guilty to three traffic citations in Webster County Magistrate Court Wednesday afternoon, seven months after she crashed into a pickup truck, killing a little girl.

Tomlinson, 21, of Fort Dodge, told Magistrate William Thatcher that she was guilty of driving on the wrong side of a two-way highway, failure to maintain control and not having proof of insurance while being involved in an accident.

When Thatcher asked Tomlinson what happened on Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 2015, to cause her to be charged with the offenses, she said she couldn’t give him an answer.

“I actually have no memory of anything,” Tomlinson said.

Trooper Neil Morenz, of the Iowa State Patrol, testified that his investigation proved that Tomlinson had crossed the center line on old Highway 20, just east of Fort Dodge, in her 2007 Jeep Wrangler.

When she crossed the center line, Morenz said she hit a pickup truck driven by Justin Henry, of Webster City.

Henry’s 6-year-old daughter, Payton Henry, suffered serious injuries in the crash and later died from her injuries at Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines.

The rest of Justin Henry’s family, Rowyn Henry, an infant; Hayley Henry, 3; and Brooke Ford, 24, all sustained incapacitating injuries, the Iowa State Patrol reported.

Tomlinson had initially pleaded not guilty to the charges and had a bench trial scheduled. However, shortly before her appearance Wednesday, she changed her pleas to guilty.

Webster County Attorney Jennifer Benson said that while the case was tragic, there was not enough evidence against Tomlinson to charge her with vehicular homicide.

She said Morenz’s investigation concluded that Tomlinson was not using her cell phone while she was driving, she was not intoxicated or had taken any drugs, and she had no pre-existing medical conditions.

“To commit the offense of vehicular homicide, a defendant has to unintentionally cause the death of another by driving a vehicle in a reckless manner with willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property,” Benson said. “‘Recklessness’ is a difficult element to prove.”

Benson added that Iowa law defines recklessness as when a person “consciously or intentionally drive(s) and they know or should know that by driving they create an unreasonable risk of harm to others.”

Additionally, to prove Tomlinson was reckless, Benson said prosecutors would have to prove that her behavior was “fraught with a high degree of danger” that was so obviously dangerous that Tomlinson knew or should have foreseen that someone could be hurt by it.

By being found guilty, Tomlinson received a number of fines.

On the failure to maintain control charge, Tomlinson was given a $100 fine with a 35 percent surcharge and $60 court costs, for a total of $195.

For operating a motor vehicle without insurance while being involved in an accident, Tomlinson received a $500 fine along with a 35 percent surcharge and $60 court costs for a total $735 fine.

Tomlinson received her highest penalties for driving on the wrong side of a two-way highway. In addition to a total fine of $410, Thatcher also gave her a special fine of $1,000, which is given when an accident results in the death of someone.

Tomlinson’s driver’s license was also suspended for 180 days.

Prior to sentencing, Tomlinson had told Thatcher that she doesn’t drive right now.