Ashley Winn, found guilty earlier this summer in the Pahrump DUI-related death of a woman in 2016, was sentenced this week to serve 16 to 40 years behind bars, which is the maximum sentence allowed by law, according to the district attorney’s office.
The sentence was handed down Monday before a standing-room-only audience in the courtroom of Judge Robert Lane for Nye County’s Fifth District Court.
Christine Weir, 33, of Pahrump, was killed in the crash on Sept. 24, 2016 while her fiancé, Brian Choiniere, suffered critical injuries in the crash at the intersection of Dandelion and Honeysuckle streets.
At the time, Weir was on her way to work her overnight shift at Walmart in Pahrump.
The couple had plans to get married the following month, on Oct. 16.
Hoping for mercy
Prior to sentencing, Winn’s defense attorney, Adam Vander Heyden, spoke on behalf of his client in regard to her personal life, criminal history and family as he pleaded for leniency.
“Sometimes during sentencing, the defendant’s personal life doesn’t really matter,” he said. “There’s really nobody depending on the defendant. The defendant is responsible for their own actions, or they have a lengthy criminal history. In this case, Miss Winn doesn’t have any criminal history. She had a few traffic tickets on her record, but for all intents and purposes, she’s never been in serious trouble.”
Mother of 4-year-old
Vander Heyden also said his client, who was 22-years-old at the time of the crash, has a 4-year-old son, with whom she shared custody with the boy’s father.
“Depending on how this sentencing goes, a majority of her son’s youth, he will not have his mother around,” Vander Heyden said. “Obviously, that doesn’t exonerate Ms. Winn from her actions, and she’s not here to say that, and I’m not here to say that. I represent to you judge, that obviously a 4-year-old, is still in the formative years of his life, and if mom’s not around for the majority of those formative years, that would obviously lead to some troubles, possibly with her 4-year-old son, so please take that into account as well.”
Meanwhile, Nye County Deputy District Attorney Michael Vieta-Kabell spoke about a tattoo that Winn received while out on bail following her arrest while awaiting trial.
The tattoo referenced a Hank Williams Jr. song entitled “Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound.”
As stated in previous testimony, Winn, of Pahrump, was drinking whiskey at a local bar just prior to the fatal crash.
Though Winn and her attorney claimed the tattoo served as a tribute and a reminder of Weir, Vieta-Kabell summarily dismissed that notion by telling the courtroom the act was utterly disrespectful.
Additionally, the prosecutor noted that Winn continued to drink while free on bail.
“For the defendant, this life-changing event led to increased drinking,” Vieta-Kabell said. “And while I can understand that while you might want to drink a lot of whiskey after this event, the death of a young member of our community, and the mortal wounding of one of our community’s families, we want to see is someone who absolutely ceases conduct like that.”
Thoughts and feelings
Both Winn and Weir’s aunt, Carol Weir-Spooner, also made respective statements during the 40-plus minute hearing.
In a prepared statement, an emotional Winn directly addressed Weir’s family seated in the courtroom.
“To the family of Christine Weir, I’m sorry I took your daughter away,” she said. “I know sorry is not the appropriate word, but sorry is the only thing that comes to mind about how truly sorry I am. I’ve been wanting to say sorry to you for a long time, and I wish I would have. I wish I didn’t drag out this trial and fought this case. I was scared, and I didn’t know what else to do.”
Winn, now 25, also said that while serving the sentence she wishes to somehow pay tribute to Weir’s memory.
“I hope that no matter what I go through when I get out, I will be able to do something that will honor her,” she said. “That’s a promise that I will keep,” she said, in part.
Weir’s aunt, meanwhile, spoke directly to Winn, during her statement.
“That day changed our lives forever,” Weir-Spooner said with strong emotion. “Chrissy, my niece, was a very special person. She had such a great personality, a fun-loving spirit and a most infectious laugh, all of which we can’t share anymore. We just have our pictures and our memories. It’s so unfair, all because Ashley Winn made a horrible choice to drink and drive. There will be no wedding, no children, no holidays, barbecues, birthdays, nothing. Just our memories,” she said in part.
Though he was present at the hearing, a visibly shaken Choiniere preferred to have Vieta-Kabell read his statement to the courtroom.
“On Sept. 24th, did you know that I died that day, too,” the prosecutor said, citing Choiniere’s statement. “Maybe not physically, but spiritually and emotionally. That single event brought me to my darkest moments, and I shut down. For a time, I wished that I had not survived. I stopped caring about everything. I stopped feeling anything, even hate, despite my injuries. All there was, was sorrow, and once that was gone, I had nothing, was nothing. The person I was, was dead. I was soulless and zombie-like. I didn’t sleep, I didn’t get tired, I didn’t eat,” Vieta-Kabell read in part.
Following the statements and prior to announcing the sentence, Judge Lane noted that multiple victims had suffered as a result of Winn’s actions.
Lane also suggested that Winn’s behavior while incarcerated could qualify her for an early release, by way of parole.
“I take into consideration that we have three victims in this crime,” Lane said in part. “Christine, Brian and the 4-year-old boy. It was a serious crime with serious consequences. Based on the evidence that was submitted in advance, and the evidence I heard here today, the trial evidence and the totality of the circumstances, and based on the time that you will actually serve, I think it would be proper to have 8 to 20 (years) on each count, consecutive. That’s 16 to 40 years. You’ll probably do 10 to 11 (years). I can’t promise that. I don’t know, but I think 10 or 11 years for the death and injury of people is an appropriate sentence.”
Additionally, Lane set restitution at $62,340.37.
As stated in a news release, Nye County District Attorney Chris Arabia said he and other prosecutors are heartened that the system brought Weir, Choiniere and their loved ones as much justice as was possible.
“It is still a heartbreaking tragedy, and I just hope everyone harmed by this can have some comfort and peace,” he said. “We can only hope that the sentence handed down today will save lives by showing what happens to people who do what Winn did.”
Vieta-Kabell, meanwhile, noted, that Winn’s conviction and sentence provides justice as well as a strong warning to others in the community who decide to drive while under the influence.
“Drinking and driving will not be tolerated by the district attorney’s office and members of the law enforcement community here in Nye County,” he said in the news release.
The district attorney also commended sheriff’s office detective Harry Means, Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Tyler Mleczko, forensic scientist Denise Heineman and all in the district attorney and sheriff’s offices who worked on the case.
A father speaks
After exiting the courtroom, Weir’s father, Jim, provided his thoughts on Winn and her sentence.
Jim Weir spoke about Winn’s plight, future and family.
“I’m glad to hear what I heard from Ashley and I hope that she comes out a better person,” he said. “It still doesn’t bring my daughter back. I worry more about her son, her mother and her family. As much as it was devastating to us, I’m sure her mother, her father and her child are devastated, but justice was served. I’m not a judge or jury, but it’s a tough decision about what is right and wrong. I hate to see her away from her child for 40 years, but if that’s what they choose, that’s what they choose.”
Contact reporter Selwyn Harris at email@example.com, on Twitter: @pvtimes
At a glance
On July 2, Pahrump resident Ashley Winn was found guilty by a jury on charges of DUI causing death and DUI causing substantial bodily injury charges.
The violent crash killed local resident Christine Weir, 33, and seriously injured Weir’s fiance, Brian Choiniere, who was driving Weir to her job at Walmart in the early morning hours of Sept. 24, 2016.
The six-day jury trial provided for numerous witnesses’ testimonies before Judge Robert Lane in Nye County’s Fifth District Court in Pahrump.
Jurors deliberated for close to three hours before making their decision.
Source: Pahrump Valley Times archives