Christol Williamson sentenced

Christol Williamson, center, speaks with public defenders Walter Hennessey, left, and Kaitlyn Lamb after a judge gave her a six-year deferred sentence on Monday for negligent homicide.

After an emotional 90-minute court hearing Monday, a judge gave a woman a six-year deferred sentence and four months of house arrest for hitting and killing a longtime Butte teacher and coach with her car in December 2017.

District Judge Kurt Krueger also ordered 56-year-old Christol Riddle Williamson to pay $8,836 in restitution to the family of Dan Lean, 76, for medical costs in his death and $3,500 to a victim compensation fund. He suspended her license for a year, but she can seek a provisional license to get to work.

Williamson pleaded guilty in January to negligent homicide. Prosecutors say she was driving on the shoulder without her headlights before sunrise Dec. 6, 2017, while Lean was walking with a reflective jacket on the 2900 block of Amherst Avenue.

Krueger said Williamson's gross negligence had taken away a beloved father, husband, grandfather, and coach but she had previously lived a crime-free life and was not a criminal.

"No amount of punishment can undo what the defendant did," Krueger said.

Prosecutors asked that Williamson get a 10-year suspended prison sentence but serve nine months in jail, have her driver's license suspended for one year, and pay more than $12,000 in restitution.

"She pled guilty to a crime, Your Honor, and you have to consider this a crime," Mike Clague, lead prosecutor in the case, said before a crowded courtroom. "She should have some consequences for what she did."

The widow and a grandson of Lean gave victim impact statements, and after a counselor and Williamson's husband spoke on Williamson's behalf, Williamson herself read a statement while crying and gasping between words and sentences.

She said her inattentiveness that early morning caused heartache for Lean's loved ones, and when it happened, "I couldn't believe it was real." But she said it was an accident.

"I don't expect you to ever forgive me, but I want you to know that I take responsibility and I am so sorry," she said as several people looking on also cried.

Lean, a dedicated walker, was wearing reflective clothing and walking in a parking lane when Williamson struck him with her vehicle, police said. His head struck the windshield, and he was immediately unresponsive afterward.

An officer at the scene did not detect any symptoms of impairment, but Williamson did say she had taken prescribed medications, including Adderall, an amphetamine stimulant. She was driving to work at a Butte nursing home when the crash occurred.

Toxicology reports later showed that Williamson had amphetamine and Zolpidem, a sedative to help people sleep, in her blood, according to the charging document. But she was not charged with intoxicated or impaired driving.

Lean had a long teaching and coaching career in Butte that included time at East Junior High School, West Junior High School, Butte High School, and Butte Central High School.

He routinely walked in the Amherst area with a reflective coat on.

During Monday's hearing, Lean's wife, Colleen, said the lives of two families "have forever been changed by this tragic accident." She asked Krueger for a fair sentence and said she hoped "we can all be granted the courage to go on with our lives."

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Five of Lean's grandchildren then took the podium, while one of them, grandson Kellen Lean, read a long letter addressed in part to Williamson.

Because of Williamson's careless actions, he and the other grandkids would never see their grandfather again, he said, while another grandson stared back at Williamson.

"It has been a year and four months since we lost our grandfather, but it feels like yesterday," Kellen Lean said.

Michelle Miller, a licensed professional counselor, said Williamson sought her out after the accident. She said Williamson was not only remorseful and depressed but also exhibited post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, a condition triggered by terrifying events.

"She has reported that she doesn't feel like her life will ever be the same," Miller said.

Walter Hennessey, one of Williamson's public defenders, argued for a six-year deferred sentence instead of any jail or prison time.

Whatever the sentence, he said, "It's going to pale in comparison to the punishment she has given herself."

Although part of Krueger's sentence was four months of house arrest, Williamson will be allowed to go to and from work.

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Government and politics reporter

Mike Smith is a reporter at the Montana Standard with an emphasis on government and politics.

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