DUI’s are never pleasant to experience, but that holds even more true when fatalities are involved. The impacts of a DUI can be very far-reaching and Jeffrey Lee Ertle, 41, learned that the hard way.
On December 13, 2014, Jeffrey Ertle was driving his Hyundai Elantra to a convenience store to buy cigarettes. His daughter Ashley Ertle and her friend Emily Cook rode along with him. Unfortunately, he was driving drunk on this evening. They were traveling along Northwest 53rd Avenue, west of 34th Street, when he veered into the path of an oncoming Chevrolet Tahoe that contained three people—two adults and one child. All occupants of the Tahoe were badly injured. The impact almost tore Ertle's Hyundai into two pieces. Ertle was in critical condition and was hospitalized for two weeks; his daughter Ashley, 13, and her friend Emily, 15, were pronounced dead at the scene. Investigators determined that Ertle’s blood alcohol level was more than two times the legal limit when he crashed into the SUV.
On Wednesday, March 16, 2016, Ertle was sentenced to 20 years in prison after pleading no contest to two counts of DUI manslaughter and one count of DUI with property damage. The two counts of DUI with serious bodily injury against Ertle were dropped as part of a plea agreement. According to Stanley Cook, Emily Cook’s father, Ertle will also get 10 years of probation after he serves his prison sentence, during which time he will not be allowed to drink. His driver’s license will also be permanently revoked.
Cook said that there was a general consensus between all parties—victims and victims' families—about exactly what punishment would be appropriate for Ertle, and what all the victims were willing to endure. Taking the case to trial would have meant family members being exposed to autopsy and accident photos and, potentially, dealing with appeals. The decided outcome seemed to be the most positive one for everyone involved and for the community.
“No contact with children, no alcohol. That's what's needed to protect the community,” Cook said. He hopes to initiate campaigns that encourage children to refuse to ride with intoxicated adults and inform kids of possible safe alternatives, like calling for help.
The site of the accident has two state-issued fatality markers, both of which are decorated with flowers and other various mementos. Members of both the Ertle and Cook families gathered along 53rd Avenue on Wednesday evening. “We're just wrapping it up. There has to [be] closure somewhere and this is a good point to start it. There will never be complete closure, but this is part of it,” Cook said.
Steven A. Bagen & Associates can and have been helping victims like the Ertle and Cook families for over 30 years. If you have been involved in a DUI-related accident, don’t hesitate to contact us. We have the knowledge and experience necessary to help you and your community get back on your feet.