LOCAL NEWS

Utahn with 5 DUI convictions sent to prison for killing 13-year-old bicyclist

Jan 24, 2023, 1:23 PM | Updated: 1:29 pm
(KSL TV)...
(KSL TV)
(KSL TV)

WEST JORDAN, Utah — A Saratoga Springs man who pleaded guilty to automobile homicide was ordered Monday to spend at least one year and up to 20 years in prison for causing the death of 13-year-old Eli Mitchell, who was riding his bike when he was struck last April in West Jordan.

At the sentencing hearing for Mason Andrew Ohms on Monday, Eli’s family expressed how hard recovering from the loss of their son, grandson and brother has been. His grandfather, Glendon Mitchell, described the grief Eli’s cousins have felt as well, and said there is no way to explain the lifelong impact of this loss.

“Nothing could prepare them to deal with the horrific nature of these crimes,” he said.

He read comments from a few people who witnessed the incident on April 26, 2022, and had grief and trauma following their experience — including a retired intensive care unit nurse who was the first person to reach Eli — and said officers and paramedics at the scene were also impacted.

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Mitchell said Ohms, 51, was drinking for six hours before hitting Eli with his vehicle, and then arrived home about two hours later, likely putting many others in danger.

“No reasonable person would do such a thing, impaired or not,” he said.

Eli’s mom, Lisa Mitchell, said Ohms was seen leaving a bar just one minute before he hit and killed Eli who was riding his bike back from the grocery store.

She said she had just given her son a new debit card, something he had asked for throughout the year. He was eager to go use that card and went to the store on his bike instead of waiting for his mom to drive him after his sister’s soccer game. Her last memory of Eli is him energetically heading for his bike.

Eli was in a crosswalk at 1510 W. 9000 South in West Jordan when Ohms made a right turn at a red light and hit him. The family said both the front and back tires went over Eli, and Ohms continued driving, despite flipping around and seeing the scene and also having Eli’s bike caught under his truck, which he later stopped to remove.

“My life will never be the same without Eli here. I shed tears every day and I am sure I will for the rest of my life until I get to see him again. I don’t think you ever recover from losing a child. I don’t think the pain will ever go away,” Lisa Mitchell said.

She said she is dedicating her life to living like Eli, who did everything big, and fit so much into his 13 years. When she is sad, she thinks about Eli, who she knows would want her to find joy and live her best life.

Ohms’ sentence

Third District Judge Paul Parker issued the sentence on Monday at a hearing in the Matheson Courthouse which was attended by many family members and friends of both Eli and Ohms.

Ohms will spend between one and 15 years in prison for automobile homicide, a second-degree felony, and a term of zero to five years for failure to remain at an accident involving death, a third-degree felony. Parker ordered the sentences to run consecutively, noting that Ohms drove off leaving a little boy on the street and he couldn’t justify not including that action separately.

He said the sentence was not meant to be a statement to the community or a judgment of whether Ohms is a good or bad person. He encouraged the family to forgive, but said the court needed to be just with its punishment in this case.

Ohms has been convicted of DUI five times in the past, Parker said, and has also been caught driving on a suspended license.

Greg Skordas, Ohms’ attorney, argued that although what happened is “absolutely unforgivable,” placing Ohms in the Odyssey House residential rehab program would be an appropriate sentence. He said his client has been active in finding support at the jail, and was invited to be a mentor. He said he couldn’t imagine anyone could have done more with their life during nine months in jail.

“Mason’s done everything he can to make this right,” Skordas said.

Ohms apologized to the family and said he has struggled to fully process his emotions, but he takes full responsibility for his actions.

“I never intended for any of this to happen, and I’m devastated by what has happened,” he said.

Salt Lake County deputy district attorney Rebecca Buchert asked the judge to impose consecutive prison sentences. She said when he was tested hours later, Ohms had a blood alcohol content of 0.10, which means he likely had a blood alcohol content of 0.22 at the time of the accident — four times the legal limit.

She said if he had stopped after the first set of tires ran over Eli instead of dragging him further, Eli likely would not have died.

After the sentencing, Eli’s parents said they were grateful for the judge and ready for the healing process to move forward. Jeremy Mitchell, Eli’s dad, said after hearing Ohms speak, he felt that his apology was sincere.

After the sentence was imposed, Lisa Mitchell said she is grateful for a pause in the chaos, but feels sadness, both for their family and the Ohms family.

The Mitchell family

Jeremy Mitchell said his son was his best friend, and Eli’s happiness is what brought him happiness.

“There will always be a missing hole in my heart for the rest of my life. I am missing out on some of my life’s most precious events on this earth because Eli is not here. I would do anything in this world to bring Eli back if I could,” he said.

He said he wishes he could take the pain away from his wife and his daughter.

Jeremy Mitchell said he continues asking himself why Ohms did not stop, which would have been a normal reaction, and instead put many others in danger. He asked Parker to not let the crime be “watered down” with a light sentence. He said there should be strict accountability and prison time for something like this, especially after multiple DUI offenses.

When Eli’s sister, Emma Mitchell, spoke to the full courtroom, she spoke about feeling alone and feeling pain throughout her whole body.

“I feel like I’m living in a nightmare and I can’t wake up,” she said.

Emma said she wanted to watch Eli, her younger brother, grow up and dreamed they would be next-door neighbors. Now, she feels depression, loneliness and hate and feels like she will never find peace, although she knows Eli would want her to try.

After the hearing she said sharing thoughts she hadn’t voiced publicly before was scary, but it felt good to say how she was feeling out loud.

Family of boy killed while riding bike gifted holiday surprise in his memory

Finding triumph in the tragedy

Jeremy Mitchell said he was not involved in politics before his son’s death, and never thought he would be. But now he is helping run a bill in the Utah Legislature to give businesses with alcohol licenses more accountability to prevent drunk driving.

“We want to take this tragedy and create triumph and also take this tragedy and help make prevention … so this doesn’t happen to other families,” he said.

HB247, sponsored by Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, is a prevention bill that Eli’s dad said would save lives by giving incentives for bars to not allow people who are drunk to get in their cars and drive off. He said even preventing 25% or 50% of drunk driving can save lives and keep people from being injured.

Jeremy Mitchell said they won’t ever know whose lives the bill may save, but they can be grateful just by knowing that they made some difference.

He said it isn’t just him, but his dad and other members of the family have been invested in the bill. Jeremy Mitchell said he thinks Eli is with them and is cheering on the cause and proud to know that their family’s tragedy could make a difference for others.

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Utahn with 5 DUI convictions sent to prison for killing 13-year-old bicyclist