Teen driver charged in fatal Highway 370 crash, despite leniency plea from victim's mom - Omaha.com
Published Saturday, December 7, 2013 at 12:00 am / Updated at 1:29 am
Teen driver charged in fatal Highway 370 crash, despite leniency plea from victim's mom

With the victim's mother urging him to stand down, Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov said Friday that the interest of justice compelled him to file a motor vehicle homicide petition against a Marian High School student involved in a traffic accident that killed her boyfriend.

Madeline Shely, 16, will go through juvenile court to answer allegations of misdemeanor motor vehicle homicide, violating a stop sign and violating her provisional driver's license.

Polikov said he met with Beth LaFave, the mother of Nate LaFave, who was 15 when he died in the Oct. 11 accident on his way to Vala's Pumpkin Patch.

Beth LaFave told him she didn't want to see Shely charged with anything, Polikov said.

“I understand where she is coming from, but we have to do what we think needs to be done to apply justice fairly,” he said.

Shely was traveling south on 180th Street toward Vala's on Oct. 11 with passengers LaFave and Carly Anne Kelly, 15. Their Jeep Cherokee collided with an eastbound pickup truck at the Nebraska Highway 370 intersection.

LaFave was a sophomore at Mount Michael Benedictine High School.

Both Shely and Kelly, who are sophomores at Marian, suffered critical injuries and spent time recovering at Lincoln's Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital. They have since been released.

Polikov said Shely won't face punishment such as jail time but instead could receive help through a range of rehabilitation options, such as counseling or education.

He said he pursued the petition through juvenile court because it was in Shely's best interest.

Still, he said, he couldn't overlook that she broke the law.

The investigation determined that Shely failed to yield at a stop sign when she approached the intersection of 180th Street and Highway 370 in Sarpy County.

It also found that she violated her provisional operator's permit.

Shely received the provisional operator's permit in August. It prohibits the holder from driving with more than one person younger than 19 in the vehicle during the first six months, though relatives are exempted.

“I represent the state, not anybody else,” Polikov said. “The state's interests are that people abide the law.”

Fred Zwonechek, administrator of the Nebraska Office of Highway Safety, said he couldn't comment specifically on this case. But he said having more passengers in vehicles driven by novice drivers increases the risk of a crash.

“One of the reasons to limit (passengers) during the early stage of driving is to limit as much distraction as possible,” he said.

LaFave's father, Dave, declined to comment on Polikov's decision. Beth LaFave, when reached by The World-Herald, declined to comment specifically on the decision.

In a statement, she criticized how Polikov publicly released word of his petition, saying the county attorney was dragging out “our worst nightmare” and “ripping open fresh wounds that are still struggling to heal.”

“I do understand the law as it is on the books in Nebraska,” LaFave said in her statement.

She later added, “We are trying to get our family through the first birthday and the first holidays without Nate.”

Polikov said he explained to Beth LaFave that Shely won't get punished in juvenile court but instead will receive help through a system that “cares about Madeline.”

Contact the writer: Emily Nohr

emily.nohr@owh.com    |   402-444-1192    |  

Emily covers Papillion, La Vista, Gretna and Springfield, as well as metro-area roads.

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