Members of Abby Whitford’s family wept Friday as a prosecutor described the events that led to the 10-year-old girl’s death last summer.
They held one another in a Sarpy County courtroom as Michael Mills, a deputy county attorney, recounted the August afternoon when Abby, on her way to the library in downtown Papillion, was struck by a 2009 Honda Civic while using a crosswalk at Second and Washington Streets.
And then the family heard Masey Lawrence, the 19-year-old driver, plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of motor vehicle homicide. Her plea ended the possibility that the Whitford family would have to endure a trial.
Lawrence faces a maximum sentence of one year in jail, a $1,000 fine or both. Her sentencing has been scheduled for April 3. In the meantime, Judge Tricia Freeman will gather information to help her determine the severity of Lawrence’s sentence.
In exchange for the plea, prosecutors agreed to drop two traffic infractions related to speeding and failure to yield to a pedestrian.
Robert Schaefer, Lawrence’s attorney, told reporters after Friday’s hearing that Lawrence is “distraught” over Abby’s death. Lawrence has been going to therapy since the crash, he said.
“She did want to take responsibility for her actions, and that’s why she did plead guilty today,” Schaefer said.
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Mills, speaking to reporters after the hearing, called the plea deal the best outcome for both families involved.
“All throughout this case, it’s been our hope and our position that Masey would come in and take responsibility for what happened,” Mills said. “She did that today.”
A member of the Whitford family declined to comment.
According to police, Lawrence struck Abby about 4 p.m. Aug. 20 as the girl and her 6-year-old brother were crossing Washington Street at Second Street in downtown Papillion. The two were on their way to Sump Memorial Library.
To reach the library, they needed to cross four lanes of traffic on 84th Street, which is called Washington Street in Papillion. One car was in the first two lanes, and it stopped. A truck was in the third, inside lane, and it stopped.
With her brother trailing behind, Abby stepped into the fourth, outside lane. Lawrence, coming up on the side of the truck, didn’t yield to flashing crosswalk caution lights and struck the girl.
Mills said Friday that traffic investigators determined Lawrence was traveling 37 mph at the time Abby was struck. The speed limit along that section of road is 25 mph.
Abby, a fifth grader at Trumble Park Elementary School, died two days later from her injuries.
Lawrence remained at the scene after the crash, police said. In October, she turned herself in after a warrant was issued for her arrest, posted 10% of a $10,000 bail and was released.
Mills on Friday declined to comment on what sentence he believes is appropriate. Schaefer said he thinks probation would be adequate.
“She’s in a prison of her mind,” Schaefer said of Lawrence.
Schaefer on Friday questioned the safety of the crosswalk Abby was using when she was struck. He echoed concerns that have been raised by some Papillion residents, who have said speeding drivers and high traffic make downtown Papillion unsafe at some times of day.
At the time Abby was struck, the crosswalk at Second and Washington had signs that lit up when a pedestrian pressed a button. It also had electronic boxes that displayed a driver’s speed.
Those features still exist. In December, the City of Papillion installed six neon-yellow signs in the intersection. The city also hired a transportation planning firm to study the area and further possible modifications.
Mills said all drivers need to pay attention to their driving speeds. “We would just ask that people slow down.”