ACCIDENTS & INJURIES

Family reacts after DUI driver convicted of killing toymaker

May 18, 2024, 10:22 AM | Updated: 10:30 am

WEST JORDAN — A guilty verdict came down Friday for the man who killed a beloved volunteer toymaker while driving under the influence. While it’s the outcome the victim’s family hoped for, they expressed how it’s not bringing them any comfort in their loss.

And now, they’re vowing to change Utah DUI laws.

Hearing the words, “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” in a West Jordan courtroom left Julie Merrill feeling relieved.

The man responsible for her father Claude Nile Thacker’s death, was convicted on all charges.

“I mean, shock is really, you know, you can’t be prepared,” Merrill said, in an interview with KSL TV outside her late father’s home Friday evening. “You just have no idea. It was super emotional.”

Toymaker killed by alleged DUI driver remembered as family waits for justice

She expressed gratefulness to the police, prosecution team, and victim’s advocates.

Yet, she was feeling far from great.

“It doesn’t feel good at all,” Merrill said.

Nile Thacker was best known as a longtime volunteer toymaker (Courtesy: Julie Merrill)

73-year-old Asael Paul Lyman was drunk, with his grandson in his truck, when he barreled into Thacker’s truck at 90 miles an hour as Thacker sat at a stoplight in West Jordan in December 2022.

Nile, as everyone knew him, was a longtime volunteer for Tiny Tim’s Toy Foundation for Kids. Merrill said her father was delivering 1,000 wooden cars to a local hospitals when he died.

For her mother Gloria Thacker, Nile’s wife of nearly 50 years, the loss was too painful to heal from.

“Just a few months after that, my mom had started to have some more serious heart problems,” Merrill explained.

She said her mother’s doctor told Gloria she was experiencing cardiac failure, likely brought on by Nile’s death.

“[The doctor] also told her that something that they really see with these long-term partnerships and marriages, and it’s the Broken Heart Syndrome,” Merrill said. “Unfortunately, she passed away February 29th of this year.”

Following Nile Thacker’s death, Julie said her mother Gloria passed from cardiac failure, also known as Broken Heart Syndrome. (Courtesy: Julie Merrill)

After losing both parents, Merrill worried Lyman’s trial this week would bring even more heartache because of the way she said Utah DUI laws are set up.

“In other states, getting behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated is enough. That is negligence. And it’s not that way in Utah,” she said.

Merrill said Lyman being well over the legal limit wasn’t enough in and of itself to prove negligence in the crash that killed Nile. Prosecutors would need to prove that it led to negligence in operating his truck, as the defense tried to argue Lyman suffered from a medical emergency and saying that’s what caused the crash.

In the end, the prosecution proved its case and Lyman was found guilty of negligently operating a vehicle resulting in death, driving under the influence with a young child in the car, plus three traffic infractions.

Jury finds man guilty of fatal DUI crash that killed toymaker

Lyman’s sentencing is set for mid-July.

Merrill hopes to work on changing DUI laws in Utah.

“It needs to be so that if you get behind the wheel of a car and your blood alcohol content is higher than the legal limit, that that is negligence,” she said.

And while she said that her family got accountability with the verdict, with two families now forever broken, she expressed that no one got peace.

“It’s what needed to happen,” she said. “But none of us are happy from the outcome.”

Nile Thacker, back center, stands with his family, with Julie Merrill and her family on the right. (Courtesy: Julie Merrill)

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Family reacts after DUI driver convicted of killing toymaker