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Driver in fatal crash violated probation, yet court says prison time still too harsh

Taylor J. Clause caught a break in 2014 when she was sentenced to six months in jail and five years on probation for first-degree vehicular manslaughter.

A passenger who could have identified Clause as the driver in a fatal 2013 crash on the Tuscarora Indian Reservation had credibility issues, which would have been a challenge in a trial.

"So we gave Ms. Clause the deal of a lifetime," Assistant District Attorney Theodore A. Brenner told a judge in 2017.

Now, an appellate court has given Clause another break.

Clause violated the terms of her probation that State Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr. set when he sentenced her in 2014. So when she appeared before him again on Dec. 15, 2017, because of those violations, he sentenced her to one to three years in prison.

But the five-judge panel at the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in Rochester unanimously decided that sentence was "unduly harsh and severe" and overturned the sentence.

Instead, the appellate judges put Clause, 23, back onto probation, added 100 hours of community service and ordered her to wear an electronic monitoring device for a year.

"She was pleased, of course," said Erin E. McCampbell, the attorney who represented Clause in the appeal. She obtained a stay of the prison sentence right after it was ordered, so Clause never went to state prison.

"I find it a bit concerning that the judge who knows every aspect of this case and gives a legal sentence would be overturned," Niagara County District Attorney Caroline A. Wojtaszek said Wednesday.

Clause could have received a maximum sentence of five to 15 years for first-degree vehicular manslaughter in the death of Jasmin P. Dubuc, 19. That sentence "would be overturned in a second," Kloch said at the sentencing hearing, according to a 2017 court transcript.

Brenner agreed with Kloch at the hearing. "But I think this is a state prison case all day long," he said.

Clause's blood alcohol content was .18 percent after the May 19, 2013, wreck on Walmore Road. Her speeding 2009 Mazda 3 struck a utility pole and rolled over several times, ejecting Dubuc, who died at the scene.

Clause also was seriously hurt. At her first sentencing in 2014, defense attorney Joel L. Daniels said Clause was placed in a medically induced coma for two and a half weeks after the crash. She had multiple skull fractures, a brain bleed, fractures in her low back and a lacerated liver. Her gall bladder was removed and several procedures were needed to remove scar tissue in her throat that resulted from a tracheotomy.

After the probation violations, Brenner, who died last month, asked Kloch to sentence Clause to a year and a half with credit for a six-month Niagara County Jail term Clause had already served following her sentencing in 2014. She also paid a $5,000 fine.

Daniels argued for returning Clause to probation because the violations were minor, even though Daniels acknowledged that Kloch had told Clause there would be "zero tolerance" of any violations.

Clause's probation officer issued a violation notice after Clause missed four appointments with him in 2017. Clause and Daniels said the June 2017 death of her grandfather affected her emotionally and led to the missed appointments.

Lewiston woman risks 15 years after violating probation in fatal crash

Dubuc's parents, Audrey and Stephen Dubuc, filed a wrongful death suit against Clause and her father. They collected a $750,000 settlement for the benefit of Jasmin's 5-year-old son, whom they are raising.

Stephen Dubuc did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday.

Brenner said in court in December 2017 that, despite her guilty plea to DWI, Clause claimed in a 2014 presentencing interview with a probation officer that she wasn't driving.

There was another passenger in the vehicle who survived, Jasmine A. Rickard, then 18. She would have been the only witness at a trial who could have placed Clause in the driver's seat. But Rickard was arrested in a January 2014 DWI case in Lockport, and she falsely told police she wasn't the driver, according to Brenner.

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