LOCAL NEWS

Man sentenced to prison for DUI crash that killed 3, in emotional hearing

Oct 30, 2022, 7:24 PM | Updated: Nov 18, 2022, 6:06 pm
A Bluffdale man who pleaded guilty to automobile homicide and driving under the influence, causing ...
A Bluffdale man who pleaded guilty to automobile homicide and driving under the influence, causing a crash that ultimately killed three people, was sent to prison on Friday with the highest possible sentence after family members of the victims spoke about their experience and loss. (Steve Griffin/Deseret News)
(Steve Griffin/Deseret News)

FARMINGTON, Utah — A Bluffdale man who pleaded guilty to automobile homicide and driving under the influence, causing a crash that ultimately killed three people, was sent to prison on Friday with the highest possible sentence after a judge said a harsher sentence is more likely to deter the crime.

Myron Millsap Barlow, 40, will spend between zero and five years in prison for each of the four counts he pleaded guilty to, three counts of negligent automobile homicide while driving under the influence and one count of driving under the influence, all third-degree felonies. His sentences will run consecutively.

Barlow caused a crash on June 29, 2021, when he ran his Ford F-250 into the back of a Toyota Prius after an escaped load caused freeway traffic to stop. At the time, his blood alcohol content was over three times the legal limit, and he had an open container of alcohol, according to charging documents.

Judge Ronald Russell said at the preliminary hearing he was “shocked and appalled” by the photos of the wreckage.

“The culpability here is not the unfortunate accident … the culpability is the decision to drink and drive,” Russell said.

He said if there aren’t harsh sentences in DUI cases, the judicial system does not deter others from drinking and driving, which is one of the reasons he issued the harshest sentence available.

Barlow told the judge he takes full responsibility for his actions. He said he didn’t blame his ex-wife, whose plans to divorce him had led him to choose to drive into Utah from out of state and to drink alcohol on the day of the crash.

“It was my decision to do what I did. I’m taking full accountability for it. I’m not blaming anybody. … I can’t even imagine what you have all gone through with this. … I am terribly sorry. And whatever Judge Russell sentences me with, I’ll serve it and I’ll use that time to grow my character, make sure this never happens again,” he said.

The four victims

Each of the victims who were severely injured or killed were part of a large family, and parents, children and siblings spoke about how the incident changed their lives and about the people they lost in the virtual hearing.

Emily Cotler lost her father, Steve Cotler, 77; her sister, Ariana Cotler, 37; her brother-in-law, David Langley, 44; and her sister’s family dog Michelle — in addition to severe brain injuries caused to her stepmother. She said the family is very close and has close to 100 people, all of whom were “shattered” by this crash. Emily Cotler said she is “one of the shattered.”

She said she understands Barlow did not have intent to kill, but she said it was not ignorance or negligence that led him to drive under the influence but a “blatant disregard” for social duties.

“(Barlow) decided to drive drunk. And what he decided was all right for him, was in fact irreconcilable with the universally accepted social understandings of community safety. Understandings that everyone in my father’s car adhered to,” she said.

She asked for the maximum possible sentence for Barlow, the sentence the judge ended up granting.

“I hope the court will levy the heaviest punishment for nothing less could be commensurate with the loss my shattered family will never stop experiencing — that of an irreplaceable father, sister, brother, mother, and dear pet,” Cotler said.

Jason Brodersen is the son-in-law of the victim who survived, but said her life changed significantly due to her brain injury. He said his mother-in-law, 78, was self-sufficient before the crash and was involved in many activities, discussion groups and her community. She was on a road trip to her 60th high school reunion and was stopping to see family in Utah at the time of the crash.

“Now that’s all gone, I mean, she’s a powerful woman, she is strong, she has a great spirit — she can’t do any of those things,” Brodersen said.

He said she is currently in an assisted living facility and leads a very different life. Broderson said she forgives Barlow and understands Barlow was not intending to cause harm. Brodersen said he wanted the court to hear about the kind of person she is.

David Langley’s parents had a different experience. His mom, Joyce Langley, spoke about their family’s experience over the five months after the crash. David Langley died on Dec. 5, 2021, after seven weeks in a coma and more time in the hospital and other care facilities including a nursing home.

“We never knew what each day was going to bring, whether we were going to have an accomplishment we could celebrate or something new to worry about,” Joyce Langley said.

She said by her last visit with him he was able to raise his hand and wave, and they had a lot of hope for his recovery.

They learned he would likely be paralyzed on one side because of the accident. She said they started preparing to care for their son and were hoping to bring him to their home in California, but they didn’t have time to get through the red tape and get him home.

“Grief is going to be part of our life, our new reality,” Joyce Langley said, speaking of sharp heart pain and feeling numb.

She said their son was known for his smile, his “infectious giggle,” and his willingness to help others.

Attorneys’ legal arguments

Barlow’s attorney, Logan Bushell, argued for a one-year jail sentence and then probation. He said sentencing guidelines would not suggest prison based on the charges and his client’s prior criminal history.

Bushell said Barlow was released from custody shortly after the crash, but immediately turned himself back in because he thought he should be incarcerated based on the significant damage he caused.

“If that is not an indication of remorse and contriteness and amenability to supervision and intervention — I don’t know what is,” Bushell said.

Bushell said this and his other behaviors show Barlow wants to take accountability and do what he can to set things right. He said there is a reason the Utah Legislature created a path for third-degree felonies where prison is not mandatory for driving under the influence and that this case is an example.

“This was certainly not an intentional act on his part. It was an incredibly shortsighted thinking error that unfortunately led to the most tragic of circumstances imaginable,” Bushell said.

He assured the judge that if given probation, he has no doubt Barlow would complete and comply with each condition after serving his sentence.

Deputy County Attorney Jason Nelson said although the guidelines show probation, they are based on one person being killed and said the outcome of the crash with multiple victims should lead to a more severe sentence. He asked the court for the highest possible sentence for the four third-degree felony charges.

“There are a lot of lives that have been altered permanently,” he said, noting that this includes Barlow.

Nelson said because there were multiple deaths the sentences should be served consecutively. He said it is clear Barlow’s actions were not deliberate, but that it is also clear that Barlow “knowingly placed others at risk.”

He said driving a Ford F-250 truck on I-15 made that car a dangerous weapon. Nelson recognized that there was an incident ahead, items falling from a catering truck, that caused traffic to stop but he said if Barlow were not drunk he would have been able to come to a stop as every other vehicle on the road did.

Although this is not something that could be considered in this case, as both attorneys and the judge noted, Nelson said that since the crash that led to this case, the Utah Legislature has altered the possible charges for automobile homicide while driving under the influence and if a similar accident were to occur the charges would be second-degree felonies and could have harsher sentences.

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Man sentenced to prison for DUI crash that killed 3, in emotional hearing