HAVRE, Mont. (NMB) – A Havre woman has been sentenced to 25 years in the Montana Women’s Prison, none suspended, after previously admitting to causing a head-on crash on US 2 in January that killed 73-year-old Loretta Park of Havre.
Jolee Lyn Landgraf, 30, was sentenced Monday in Hill County District Court by Judge Olivia Rieger on the charge of vehicular homicide while under the influence.
Landgraf will receive credit for 242 days of time served and will not have any parole restrictions. Rieger recommended that if given parole, the Parole Board screen Landgraf for treatment at the Elkhorn Treatment Center followed by a pre-release program. Landgraf is ordered to pay over $40,000 in restitution, including over $15,000 in funeral expenses and $25,000 for the victim’s vehicle insurance. Upon any release, Landgraf must perform 100 hours of community service, a consequence Rieger says she imposed due to Park’s history of community service.
The prosecution, led by Special Deputy County Attorney Karen Alley, had also requested restitution for probate and for Park’s grandkids private school tuition, as she had been paying for that through her retirement savings. However, Rieger did not grant either request, saying granting the latter could have been later ruled a “reversible error.” She added that the victim’s family could still request those funds through other legal means.
On January 18th at around noon, Landgraf was driving eastbound on US 2 at Pork Chop Hill when she swerved into oncoming traffic while trying to pass an eastbound semi-tractor trailer in a no-passing zone and struck Park’s vehicle. Park was on her way home after volunteering at the Chinook Senior Center. Landgraf had left her home the night before after getting into an argument with her husband. Toxicology reports showed that Landgraf was under the influence of numerous drugs, including amphetamine and methamphetamine. Landgraf was going at a high rate of speed and did not brake prior to the collision.
Monday’s sentencing hearing lasted 90 minutes, and included the reading of several victim impact statements. Mahaila Johnke, Park’s cousin, read her statement, as well as one from her husband, Robert Johnke. Ryan Higgins, Park’s son, also provided a statement. Park’s daughter, Karyn Higgins, read a statement from Park’s sister, Marilyn Trusty.
They said Park was an invaluable and caring friend and family member and that they are still dealing with the aftermath of this tragedy. Ryan Higgins called Park a “rock” for their family, saying that she made a lasting impact on everyone from grandchildren to siblings. Mahayla Johnke called Park her “longest, closest friend,” and was in tears while reading the victim impact statements.
Trooper Matt Erickson also spoke at the sentencing hearing and provided the facts of the investigation into the crash when prompted to by Alley. The defense did not cross-examine Erickson.
Prior to the sentence being handed down, Landgraf spoke briefly, apologizing for her preventable actions and saying she was sorry and ashamed. She said that she hopes Park’s family can one day forgive her for her actions.
Defense Attorney Annie DeWolf said Landgraf has been remorseful and believes she can once again be a productive member of society and would like to be a Certified Nursing Assistant. She said that Landgraf had experienced a “downward spiral” into drug and alcohol addiction but had been sober for several years before using again during the pandemic.
Rieger noted for the record that the Pre-Sentence Investigation showed a pattern of previous offenses, including charges of partner or family member assault and assault with a weapon. Prosecution of these charges have all either been deferred or dropped, but Rieger said it should be taken into account that Rieger was under the influence of drugs or alcohol in the case of all of the alleged offenses.
Rieger said that no matter what sentence was handed down, the families of both the victim and the defendant can never be repaired and the damage this incident caused will be long lasting.
The sentence strayed from the recommendation from both sides of this case. The prosecution asked for a 30 year sentence, with 10 suspended, and a 20 year parole restriction. The defense sought a 20 year sentence, with 10 suspended.
Rieger said the reason for the sentence was in order to protect the public and follow Montana law. She noted previous sentences issued by other Judges for this offense have been lighter, but she believes that this violent offense is deserving of harsh punishment because it was completely preventable and resulted in loss of life.
Everyone who spoke at the sentencing hearing on Monday was in the Hill County Courthouse, with the exception of Rieger, who appeared virtually from the Dawson County Court House. Hill County District Court Judge Kaydee Snipes-Ruiz previously recused herself from this case.