Trucker Who Took Hydrocodone Before Fatal Crash Gets Prison Sentence
Laramie, WY – A trucker who fell asleep before a deadly crash in March 2018 was sentenced to 10-20 years in prison on Tuesday.
Tonya Hightower, 48, was convicted of aggravated vehicular homicide in August stemming from a fatal crash that occurred on March 21, 2018 at approximately 5 a.m. along I-80 eastbound.
Investigators said Hightower’s big rig was traveling westbound when she fell asleep and veered south off of the road.
The tractor-trailer then continued through the 75-foot median and entered the eastbound lanes before striking a passenger vehicle driven by 57-year-old Vidal Madera of Laramie.
According to an affidavit from Wyoming Highway Patrol (WHP) Lt. Michael Simmons, Madera’s sedan was “torn roughly in half.”
Madera suffered “extreme, fatal injuries,” according to WHP.
Further, evidence in the case showed that despite the fact Madera was wearing his seat belt, he was ejected from the vehicle.
Investigators said Hightower’s big rig was traveling 45-57 mph at the time it struck Madera’s vehicle.
According to court documents, Hightower told WHP investigators at the scene that she had taken some leftover pills from a 2017 surgery, including hydrocodone, before the crash.
Additionally, WHP investigators said she indicated she was unsure what happened and “just lost control of the vehicle.”
However, Hightower did not test positive for narcotics when a blood draw was conducted.
She later pleaded not guilty to the charges against her.
In August, an Albany County District Court jury determined Hightower’s decision to drive the truck while overly fatigued constituted recklessness which led to her conviction.
At Tuesday’s sentencing, Judge Tori Kricken said, “There can be no winners, no matter what the court does.”
Brandon Vilos, Hightower’s attorney, pointed out in court that Hightower has been a commercial truck driver for 22 years and had a clean driving record and no criminal history up until the accident.
Hightower spoke before she was sentenced and apologized to Madera’s family members.
“I want to apologize for the tragedy that this family has been a victim of, and for my human weakness,” she said.
The maximum sentence Judge Kricken could have imposed was 20 years.
Judge Kricken said Hightower would receive credit for nine months she has already served.