Man who killed Eudora child in hit-and-run sentenced to nearly 6 years in prison
photo by: Tatum Goetting
Story updated at 5:59 p.m. Tuesday:
A man who killed a Eudora child in a hit-and-run accident in May was sentenced on Tuesday in Douglas County District Court to nearly six years in prison.
Judge Amy Hanley handed down the maximum possible sentence to Jose Alfredo Galiano Meza after a lengthy and emotional hearing at which loved ones of the accident victim, Brooklyn Brouhard, spoke to the court about the impact that Brooklyn’s death at just 10 years old had on them.
“You left my daughter on the side of the road to suffer and die,” Brooklyn’s mother, Shelby Brouhard, told Meza, who listened with the help of a Spanish language translator. Brouhard’s statement was read by prosecutor Jennifer Tatum as Brouhard sobbed by her side.
photo by: Courtesy of Douglas County Sheriff’s Office
Meza, 29, who is from Honduras, pleaded guilty in September to involuntary manslaughter and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, a car. He was originally charged with second-degree murder, aggravated battery and leaving the scene of an accident. The charge of leaving the scene was dropped as part of the plea deal. On Tuesday, he was sentenced to 34 months on each count to run consecutively, which is the maximum sentence allowed under state sentencing guidelines. Meza will also be required to pay $31,000 in restitution (for various expenses related to Brooklyn’s care and funeral) and to register as a violent offender for 15 years.
He was convicted of hitting Brooklyn — who had just excitedly celebrated her first “double-digit” birthday, her grandma told the court — on May 14 with a van and fleeing the scene. Brooklyn was a passenger on the motorcycle driven by her grandfather Barry Larson, 54, of Eudora, who was also injured. Brooklyn died the next day at the University of Kansas hospital from injuries suffered in the crash, which happened at East 1900 Road and Kansas Highway 10.
Brooklyn’s mother and grandmother described to the court how they sat with Brooklyn at the hospital. They were allowed to hold her hand but not to hug her because “nearly every bone in her body was broken,” Brooklyn’s mom said.
After hours of hoping, “I was told that my daughter is dying and there is nothing they can do,” she said.
“The guilt and the shame I feel for outliving my child is a daily battle,” she said, describing not just her own suffering but the suffering of Brooklyn’s three siblings in her absence — trauma effects that include anxiety, depression, panic attacks and crippling despair.
Brouhard showed the court a little green Mother’s Day box that Brooklyn had just made for her. The box was full of coupons of promised acts of love “that never expire.” Brooklyn was engaged in one such act, cooking scrambled eggs for her mom, on the morning of the accident.
Shelby Brouhard also showed the court a poster that she later found on Brooklyn’s bed. The poster was an “I have a dream” message for equality and love “for all.” She said her daughter was unfailingly the kindest person in the room, always making people feel like they were cherished and belonged — a sentiment echoed by others, including Brooklyn’s grandmothers, brother and fourth-grade teacher.
Jennifer Decker, the teacher at Eudora Elementary School, said she was “heartbroken and numb” when she heard about what had happened to Brooklyn. She said that she and her class of traumatized 10-year-olds spent the last two days of the school year crying, with some of the students so inconsolable that they had to be walked out of school by social workers.
The class made an album of pictures and notes to give to Brooklyn’s family, an item that the judge looked through carefully from the bench as the courtroom sat in silence.
Decker, citing her student’s compassion, addressed Meza directly, telling him that Brooklyn loved everyone.
“She would have loved you,” Decker said through tears. “She would have forgiven you. Because she would have forgiven you, I forgive you.”
“But we need to make your mistake right,” she said.
Brooklyn’s father, Kyle Brouhard, also addressed the court, saying what other family members had said: that Meza shouldn’t have gotten a plea deal.
“Every law he broke — I’m literally lost for words,” he said, but also added, “At some point in my life I have to forgive him.”
Kyle Brouhard told the court how Brooklyn had once asked him for $5 to give to some homeless people she saw in a tent. And when they couldn’t find the tent, she insisted that they look for it.
“The heart that little girl had — I have no idea where she got it from,” her father said.
Meza chose not to speak at the sentencing.
His attorney, James Spies, asked the court to run Meza’s sentences for aggravated battery and involuntary manslaughter concurrently. He argued that Meza, who like many immigrants was “very much alone in the U.S.,” had “taken responsibility” for the accident, had expressed remorse, had not sought probation, and had accepted a plea deal so as not to “agonize” Brooklyn’s family any longer than necessary.
He said his client had grown up in Honduras “in the depths of poverty” and had left school after one year of middle school. He said Meza tried to make his way by working odd jobs before seeking a better life in the U.S. He was working as a painter in Lawrence on the day of the accident.
“This was a horrible, tragic accident,” Spies told the court, “not a depraved, intentional act.”
He noted that Meza would almost certainly be deported back to Honduras after the completion of his sentence.
The prosecution, represented by Tatum, argued that Meza should get the “harshest possible sentence,” citing a long list of factors, which the judge ultimately agreed with and echoed while pronouncing the 68-month sentence.
Hanley noted Brooklyn’s young age, the fact that the crime involved two victims, that Meza had been drinking and smoking marijuana at the time, that he left the scene after running the stop sign and striking the motorcycle, that he failed to call for help and then fled to Indiana and hid from police for weeks.
“You took responsibility once you were caught,” she said.
To the dozens of Brooklyn’s supporters who personally appeared at Tuesday’s sentencing or who wrote letters to the court about the little girl who would never be a fifth grader, Hanley said:
“I see her. I see Brooklyn … She was the sun, the glue of the family. She cared for others and protected others.”