Press-Republican

December 4, 2012

Probation, jail in crash death

Brushton teen sentenced for fatal accident in 2011

By DENISE A. RAYMO
Press-Republican

---- — MALONE — About 100 people packed the Franklin County Court gallery Monday to see a Brushton teen sentenced for a 2011 car crashed that killed one friend and injured another.

Tanya A. Menke, 17, sobbed and read from a wrinkled piece of paper before being sentenced to two concurrent terms of five years probation, with the first 45 days in County Jail, for killing Brooke Lyon, 17, of Moira on Dec. 7.

Menke won’t begin serving the term until July 1, once the school year is over.

She will also have to abide by 32 probation conditions, and any violation means she could face four years in state prison.

Menke pleaded guilty in October to criminally negligent homicide for Lyon’s death and to second-degree vehicular assault for severely injuring another passenger, Alexis Collette, 17 of Moira.

All three were students at Brushton-Moira Central School.

HAUNTED BY LOSS

Curt Lyon stepped to the podium first to tell County Court Judge Robert G. Main Jr. about the loss of his youngest child, the only daughter in the family.

“We miss her more than words can describe. Brooke’s absence haunts us every day,” he said. “Brooke won’t be here for Christmas. She won’t be here for her 18th birthday next month, and she won’t be here for her high-school graduation in June.

“She’s not here, but her legacy will live on for years,” he said, referring to a school-activity fund she helped create. “Brooke left a mark on the youth on Brushton-Moira and surrounding communities, as we still hear compliments about her and wonderful stories about our dear daughter.”

He said she “certainly had plenty to offer this world if she wouldn’t have been robbed of life during her prime. We feel we are living a nightmare without end.”

HORRIFIC CRASH

Menke had only a learner’s permit and admitted smoking pot that day before losing control of her vehicle about 3:30 p.m. at the intersection of McGowan and Eddy roads in the Town of Brandon.

She was driving the 1999 Volkswagon Beetle on McGowan Road in thick fog but did not slow down as she approached the intersection with Eddy Road. She failed to stop at the stop sign, and the car slid down an embankment and crashed into a tree.

Lyon was killed, and Collette and Menke were taken to Alice Hyde Medical Center in Malone first before being transferred to Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington.

Curt Lyon said he doesn’t refer to the car crash as an accident because “this was not an accident; if not for the felonious negligence of Ms. Menke, Brooke would be with us today.

“The behavior and lack of remorse by Ms. Menke is appalling. She hasn’t even said, ‘I’m sorry.’ Her stares, her grins, the hate mail I received last Christmas Eve and the ongoing effort to coax our community to choose sides … adds to our endless grief.

“The lack of remorse coupled with the obvious fact that she shouldn’t have been driving in the first place are two factors weighing heavily on our minds,” Lyon said, adding that spending time in jail might give Menke “some sense of responsibility for Brooke’s death.”

LIFE-CHANGING INJURIES

Stacie Collette gave the second victims’ impact statement.

“About a year ago, my family was changed forever, and my daughter, Alexis was gone,” she said. “In place of her lay the lifeless little body just barely clinging to life as a result of Tanya Menke driving under the influence of drugs.”

She described the measures physicians used to help her daughter, including the intravenous drugs, operations and countless other treatments.

Listening from a seat in the crowded gallery was Alexis, wearing a white bicycle helmet decorated with a variety of colorful and glittery stickers and messages.

“Part of the front of her skull was removed to allow for her brain to swell,” her mother said. “She must wear a helmet at all times other than sitting in a stationary chair to protect her exposed brain.”

The teen’s siblings have also suffered because of the crash, Collette said.

Her youngest child sleeps in bed with her “because of nightmares of Alexis dying,” her oldest daughter moved out of state because she couldn’t cope with watching her sister struggle, another child “is terrified to ride in a vehicle,” and the last “learned to turn off emotions and not get too close to anyone.

ALLEGES HARASSMENT

“Tanya Menke laughs at Alexis wearing a helmet and calls her names,” the woman said, adding that the teen driver took even more from her daughter in the crash, including her ability to obtain a driver’s license or to work, play sports, go to an amusement park, ride a bike or go skating.

“Tanya Menke harasses, intimidates and makes fun of Alexis regularly at school. This is not a girl who is remorseful. Tanya Menke has not apologized to either of our families.”

Collette said her family was rebuffed when they made themselves available to Menke to allow her to apologize and again when they tried to help the Menke family following a house fire they suffered.

“We were told to stay away,” she said.

“My hope is that through jail time and other disciplinary action, Tanya Menke, as well as other teens, will realize the seriousness of driving without a license with other lives in their hands to prevent another life from being taken or destroyed.”

LOST BEST FRIEND

When it was her turn to speak, Menke cried, saying she lost her best friend that day.

“I don’t even remember what happened,” she said.

She said Lyon didn’t want to drive that day and that “we always did what she wanted to do.”

Defense attorney John Piasecki said his client was remorseful and that extenuating circumstances led to the crash, including the poor weather conditions, and “the behavior of the occupants didn’t reduce the risks involved.”

He said Menke has taken responsibility by pleading guilty and seeking counseling and will have to live with the knowledge of Lyon’s death the rest of her life.

Piasecki said that no matter what sentence was handed down “it can’t reduce the impact this whole matter has had on Tanya” and that treating her as a youthful offender is proper “so her life will not be more complicated than it is now.”

SCARS FOREVER

Judge Main said the date of Dec. 7 is already seared in the national consciousness (due to the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor), and now that date will be also remembered locally for the tragedy attached to it.

“Nothing I can say today and no sentence I impose will make things better. Brooke will still be gone from her family and friends, and Alexis will still be scarred from the events of that day.

“How (Menke) had a car at all and no license is a mystery to me and a lesson to all,” he said, adding that her claim that she was coerced into smoking pot and driving “borders on suspicious,” considering her knowledge of pot and where to obtain it.

The judge sentenced her to probation and jail and imposed fines, surcharges, fees and restitution totaling about $3,500.

Probation conditions were also outlined that forbid her from using Facebook and MySpace, to be under a curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. and to perform 500 hours of community service, including speaking at educational classes to other teens about the dangers of drug use and driving as well as fatal motor-vehicle crashes.

She must also follow any treatment suggested by probation officials, graduate from high school or an equivalent program and hold down a full-time job or be a full-time student.

Email Denise A. Raymo: draymo@pressrepublican.com