By Mike Linn
Tiffany Rodgers, charged with vehicular homicide in the death of a 15-year-old boy, buried her head on her sister’s shoulder Tuesday, her face swollen and red with tears.
It was only 25 minutes later that Rodgers, who pleaded no contest to the February 2002 crime that left Matthew Foley dead, received District Judge Robert Brack’s sentence: six months in jail, followed by 2 1/2 years of house arrest.
To Foley’s family, who along with Deputy District Attorney Andrea Reeb pleaded for the three-year maximum incarceration, Brack said: If this sentence doesn’t fit the crime, “let the burden fall on my shoulders.
“I can’t imagine losing a child — I have three of my own — let alone finding him the way you did,” Brack said.
Reports indicate Rodgers drove a vehicle that hit Foley on Roosevelt Road P at night and then drove off, leaving him for his mother and his friend to find scattered 15 feet off the road in a pool of his own blood.
“Our hearts were ripped out…” said Kristynne Cranford, Foley’s sister, in her victim impact statement.
Foley’s family presented three statements of how life has changed since Foley’s death. It was during these statements that emotions got the best of Rodgers, who several times buried her tear-torn face in her arms.
The eight-hour, emotionally-charged hearing, also included a handful of character references on Rodgers’ behalf and hours of differing accounts on how much time Rodgers had to stop or steer clear of the darkly-clothed victim on a pitch-black county road.
New Mexico State Police Sgt. Phil Sexton re-enacted the event and measured that a darkly-dressed person walking down the road at night could be perceived within 185 feet, giving Rodgers enough time to avoid the accident had she been driving the 35 mph speed limit.
Two witnesses for the defense, however, said Rodgers could only have perceived Foley within 40 and 61 feet, which would be too close for her to avoid the victim.
On the morning of the incident, Rodgers had her wisdom teeth pulled and was prescribed the pain killer tylox, and a doctor warned her of the danger of driving, according to court testimony.
Whether the pain killer impaired her driving that night or not wasn’t completely delved into on Tuesday by prosecutors.
But witnesses for the prosecution did mention that Rodgers’ actions in the months following the incident involved under-age drinking and going to establishments for those 21 and over. Both testimonies exhibited that Rodgers, 19 at the time, had violated conditions of her release.
Witnesses testified that Rodgers — a Lovington native and former cheerleader and student at Eastern New Mexico University — has wished to die, lost weight and removed herself from friends since the incident.
“She was in a lot of pain, lost a lot of weight, like the weight of the world was on her shoulders,” said Timothy Brown, Rodgers’ pastor and close friend.
Since the incident, one witness noted that Rodgers drew the cross that rests on the side of the road on Foley’s behalf, then had it tattooed to her back so that Foley would be with her forever.
Brack noted that his daughter reminded him very much of Rodgers and he contemplated his sentence both as a father and judge.
In conclusion, Brack told Rodgers to follow all the rules of her sentence, something he said she didn’t do during her conditions of release.
“I’m showing some mercy in my sentence and I don’t want to feel like I’ve made a mistake,” he said.