Woman pleads guilty in drunken-driving death

Woman pleads guilty in drunken-driving death

April 4th, 2012 by Todd South in News

Latisha Stephens, left, receives encouragement from Tiki Finlayson, mother of the late Kevin Yates, before pleading guilty to vehicular homicide by intoxication in Don Poole's courtroom Tuesday. Kevin Yates died of injuries sustained on July 31, 2011, when Stephens was driving intoxicated and traveling the wrong direction on state Highway 153.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

The mother of a drunken-driving victim took a few moments Tuesday to put her arm around the woman who killed her son just before she pleaded guilty to the act.

After the Hamilton County Criminal Court hearing, Tiki Finlayson said she wanted to make sure Latisha Stephens, 33, was OK after Stephens pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide by intoxication and reckless endangerment in the death of Kevin Yates, the son of Finlayson.

Following a plea agreement between Stephens' attorney, Bill Speek, and prosecutor Kate Lavery, Judge Don Poole sentenced Stephens to eight years. She must serve 20 percent of the sentence, or about a year and a half, before she's eligible for parole.

As the hearing ended, Stephens asked the judge if she could speak to Kevin Yates' family. She then turned at the podium and said, "I'm sorry from the bottom of my heart for the pain I've caused you, and I continue to pray for your family every day."

Stephens was driving north in the southbound lane of state Highway 153 just before 1:40 a.m. on July 31, 2011, when she slammed her Jeep Wrangler head-on into Yates' Chrysler minivan, according to court records. Yates died hours later at a hospital.

When they arrived at the wreck, police measured Stephens' blood alcohol level at 0.20. In Tennessee, 0.08 is considered legally drunk.

Since Yates' death, his family and friends have formed a nonprofit anti-drunken driving group called "1N3," a reference to statistics citing that one in three Americans is affected by drunken driving.

On Monday, more than 40 of Yates' family and friends met at his grave at Hamilton Memorial Gardens for a remembrance and celebration marking what would have been his 26th birthday.

Finlayson said that, as part of the plea agreement, family members met privately with Stephens last week in a reconciliation meeting in which they shared the impact of Yates' death on their lives.

Though saddened deeply by his death, Finlayson and other family members said they lean on their Christian faith in dealing with their loss. In coming to the plea agreement, she said that ensuring that Stephens received counseling and helped educate others on drunken-driving dangers was more important than the amount of time she spent in jail.

"Basically, I just wanted to make sure that she got her life where it needed to be so that she could encourage other people to not drink and drive," Finlayson said after the hearing.

As part of her plea agreement, Stephens will work with 1N3 at least twice a week for 90 days upon her release from prison.