LOCKPORT – A woman who was charged with causing a passenger’s death in a May 19 vehicle crash on the Tuscarora Indian Reservation will go to jail, but not for long, in the wake of a plea deal made Friday.
“It’s a travesty of justice,” said Dr. Stephen M. Dubuc, the father of the victim, Jasmin P. Dubuc. He said the deal resulted because of the unreliability of a key witness.
Taylor J. Clause, 19, of Steele Circle, Town of Niagara, will be sentenced to five years’ probation that will begin with six months in Niagara County Jail. The jail term will begin on the sentencing date, which is June 19.
Clause pleaded guilty to first-degree vehicular manslaughter and misdemeanor driving while intoxicated. State Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr. warned her that a probation violation leaves her vulnerable to resentencing, and then he could give her up to the legal maximum of 15 years in prison for the manslaughter count.
Deputy District Attorney Theodore A. Brenner said the charge implies Clause’s blood-alcohol content was more than .18 percent.
Brenner said in court that he had discussed the plea deal extensively with Dubuc’s parents.
“They’ve agreed to this reluctantly as the least bad of several options because of problems in the proof,” Brenner told Kloch.
Brenner declined to comment on the evidentiary problems. Defense attorney Joel L. Daniels, who was joined by James J. Faso Jr. in representing Clause, was asked if there was a question about who was driving the fatal car.
“That would have been addressed at trial,” Daniels said, smiling.
Dubuc, a chiropractor, said the problem was the only eyewitness the prosecution could offer for the crash was Jasmine A. Rickard, a surviving passenger, who has a pending DWI charge of her own in the Town of Lockport.
Rickard, 18, of Lewiston, was accused at the time of her Jan. 4 arrest of falsely telling police that she wasn’t driving a car that left the scene of a collision. Rickard was sued Feb. 3 by Allan David of Royalton, the person injured in the Jan. 4 crash.
Brenner had mentioned Rickard’s legal situation at Clause’s Jan. 23 arraignment, when he was required to disclose what lawyers call “Brady material” - information prosecutors have that could help the defense.
The day after the arraignment, Dubuc’s parents filed a wrongful death suit against Clause and her father, Morley A. Clause III, the owner of the 2009 Mazda that crashed on a curve on Walmore Road. Jasmin Dubuc was ejected after the car struck a utility pole and rolled over several times about 5:50 a.m.
“Taylor was in the hospital unconscious. The only living witness was Jasmine Rickard,” Dr. Dubuc said. “The concern was having her get on the stand and Daniels saying, ‘Well, you lied in Lockport. How do we know you weren’t lying here?’”
The victim’s mother, Audrey L. Dubuc, said the family went along with the plea for Clause because “it was a guarantee she would get some jail time.”
Another plaintiff in the civil suit is Chase J. Dubuc, Jasmin’s infant son, who was 43 days old when her mother died. Stephen Dubuc said the baby, who is being raised by him and Audrey, turns 1 years old Sunday.
Jasmin turned 19 years old 16 days before the wreck. She was a month away from graduating from Niagara Wheatfield Senior High School.