TWIN FALLS — For 18 seconds Friday, two mothers, each with four children, embraced in front of a packed courtroom. One was Aime Franklin, left widowed last May when her husband, Twin Falls firefighter Ryan Franklin, was killed in a hit-and-run crash while cycling south of Kimberly. The other was Hollie Marie Winnett, the woman who killed Franklin when she fell asleep at the wheel.
The tearful hug was a window for the packed courtroom into the lives of two women devastated by the fatal crash: One widowed and left to raise her four children without her husband and best friend, the other torn apart emotionally and ravaged by guilt for the pain she never meant to cause.
Winnett, 33, of Hollister was sentenced Friday to 90 days in jail and seven years of probation. She pleaded guilty in January to misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter and felony leaving the scene of a fatal crash. District Judge Randy Stoker also ordered Winnett to pay child support to Franklin’s children and will order more restitution at a future hearing.
Seated just feet apart from one another, Franklin turned and addressed her victim impact statement directly to Winnett.
“I really hoped that when I was given the chance to speak to you, that I would tell you what was in my heart, that I would be able to say, ‘I love you and that I forgive you,’” Franklin said. “I have learned that those two things will take time to achieve, but please know that I am working to forgive you and to love you as you are.”
As Franklin stood and ended her intimate statement, she added one final request: “Let me hug you.”
Winnett sobbed as the women embraced, whispering a single word: “Sorry.”
Her attorney, Brad Calbo, said the hug was “one of the most beautiful things” he’d ever witnessed and praised the “dignified conduct of the Franklin family throughout this horrific event.” He also told the court the word sorry was “woefully inadequate.”
“That word is so commonly used to make it almost meaningless,” Calbo said. “And yet I’m unaware of another word, or a more powerful word, that would accurately describe or correctly portray the deep regret and remorse that this woman feels. And so despite its inadequacy, I feel compelled to say it: We’re so very sorry.”
Calbo argued that Winnett, likely suffering from anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, should only serve probation for the crime, and that jail time would only punish her husband and four children. Rosemary Emory, deputy prosecutor for Twin Falls County, argued 90 days in jail was necessary so as not to make light of the crime.
Stoker sided with Emory, sentencing Winnett to 90 days in the county jail after asking Aime Franklin if she was still in agreement with the plea deal.
“These are, by far, the absolute hardest cases in the world,” Stoker said, before adding that he had no doubt Winnett’s remorse was sincere, and the crash was a tragic accident.
Winnett admitted when pleading guilty that she fell asleep while driving her Jeep Liberty on May 18, and Calbo explained Friday why she was so tired: She spent the previous night moving her family from eastern Twin Falls County to Hollister, then drove her children to their school the next morning. On her way back to Hollister, she fell asleep and hit Franklin, an avid cyclist, as he rode at 3375 E. 2900 N.
Winnett panicked and fled the scene but later returned with her husband.
Franklin, 34, had worked at the Twin Falls Fire Department for 2 ½ years. Before that, he taught middle-school English and coached basketball at Lighthouse Christian School for six years.
Aime Franklin and Ryan’s parents remembered him Friday as a man of great faith whose death has left a gaping hole in the lives of those who knew him.
Before the emotional embrace, Aime compared Ryan’s death to her father’s death.
“He was surrounded by loved ones and held my mom’s hand as he breathed his last breath,” Franklin said. “We all got to say goodbye to him, and we got to tell him how much we loved him before he died and faced the Lord. On May 18, my husband and my best friend, and the loving father of my kids, died face down on the side of the road, completely abandoned and alone. No one got to say goodbye to him, no one got to hold his hand as he entered into the presence of the Lord.”
Mark Franklin, Ryan’s father, told the court his son’s legacy “continues to affect (Lighthouse Christian), affect the community and affect his family, even in his absence. We know what he stood for; we know who he was.”
Franklin’s mother, Margaret, told Winnett how devastated she was when Aime called and told her that her oldest son had been killed.
“People can say ‘shame on you,’ but the Lord always says ‘shame off you,’” Margaret Franklin said. “You can choose that, and I have a choice to forgive. I pray that we both make the right choice.”