Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov said Monday that, in the interest of justice, he has filed a misdemeanor motor vehicle homicide petition against Madeline Shely, 16, following an Oct. 11 car accident on 180th Street and Highway 370 which took the life of Nate LaFave, 15.
The charge against Shely comes despite a plea from Beth LaFave, Nate's mother, for leniency toward the teenager. Polikov, though, said his hands are bound by Nebraska statute.
“I understand and appreciate her goodwill, but I don't make my considerations the same way,” Polikov said.
A Change.org petition started by Debra Scoular of Council Bluffs was launched Saturday and had 1,750 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon. The petition accuses Polikov of having an "agenda" and calls on him to drop the motor vehicle homicide charge against Shely.
"This girl is a decent kid, good grades, popular student, involved in her school," Scoular said in the petition. " She is a good daughter, friend and member of her church. She made a mistake and missed a stop sign. As the result of her mistake, a boy lost his life (her best friend), and another best friend was critically injured. She was also injured. The county attorney wants to charge her with manslaughter. Hasn't Maddie suffered enough?"
The motor vehicle homicide charge was filed in juvenile court, Polikov said. Should the court agree with the petition, it will take jurisdiction.
Polikov noted that juvenile court is not intended for punishment, but rehabilitation.
“You can't go to jail, you can't be fined, you can't be punished in any way,” he said.
He said such rehabilitation would be in the best interest for both the state and Shely as it would provide further assurance of no re-offense as well as provide her the opportunity to accept responsibility and accountability as she moves into her future.
“When someone says she didn't mean to do it, that doesn't mean she's not responsible,” he said.
Shely was driving south on 180th Street toward Vala's Pumpkin Patch on Oct. 11 with passengers LaFave and Carly Anne Kelly, 15. The Jeep Cherokee she was driving collided with an eastbound pickup truck at the Nebraska Highway 370 intersection. LaFave was killed and Shely and Kelly suffered critical injuries.
The county's petition alleges Shely committed the offenses of motor vehicle homicide, violation of a stop sign and violation of a provisional operator's permit.
An investigation determined Shely failed to yield at a stop sign when she approached the intersection of 180th Street and Highway 370. It also found she violated her provisional operator's permit.
Shely received the provisional operator's permit in August.
A provisional permit prohibits the holder from driving with more than one person younger than 19 in the vehicle during the first six months.
While this may have been a tragic accident, Polikov said it is his responsibility to apply justice fairly and equally in the interest of the public.
“She wasn't drinking and driving, she wasn't doing drugs, she wasn't texting on her phone, and those are all good things,” he said. “But the goal is to provide the law fairly across the board and protect the public.”
Additionally, Polikov said this case is highly emotional, but his office cannot operate on emotion and needs to show a firm stance for other teen drivers who may find themselves in a similar situation.
“The message would be: 'It's no big deal,'” if his office did not file a petition, he said. “We've been in this spot too many times, but we have to make what we feel is the best decision in the pursuit of justice.”
Polikov said the filing of charges has not been an easy choice to make, but it must be done.
“It weighs heavily on me, but it doesn't change my legal opinion or responsibility,” he said.
In a statement, Beth LaFave, Nate's mother, criticized how Polikov publicly released word of his petition on Friday, saying the county attorney was dragging out “our worst nightmare” and “ripping open fresh wounds that are still struggling to heal.”
“I do understand the law as it is on the books in Nebraska,” she said in her statement.
She added, “We are trying to get our family through the first birthday and the first holidays without Nate.”
World Herald News Service and Breeze Managing Editor Scott Stewart contributed to this report.