Judicial Leniency: Probation for Causing Fatal Accident

Lowell Man Gets Probation Instead of Prison

In the last few days of 2015, Brian Welch, a 23-year-old from Lowell, pled guilty to causing the death of his girlfriend in a tragic car accident. He didn’t mean to cause a fatal accident. For that matter, he didn’t intend to get in an accident at all. And he had no idea she hadn’t survived the crash. That is, until family shared the terrible news with him when he woke up in a hospital bed. And he is still heart broken over the whole thing. Which makes sense, because Kristina Garza was the love of his life.

So it was an act of incredible kindness when Garza’s sister, Anna, stood up in court and asked for leniency from the Judge on Welch’s behalf. Because her family, who are also grieving and broken hearted, understand that it was an accident. And that Welch would do anything to go back in time and change it if he could.

According to court documents, Welch was under the influence of THC at the time of the fatal accident, which is the active ingredient in marijuana. How much, we don’t know. The test results weren’t revealed during the hearing, although Welch’s defense attorney did say that the amount was very small. However Michigan law is very clear – any amount of THC in a driver’s system constitutes impaired driving.

Operating While Intoxicated/Impaired Causing Death is a very serious charge, punishable by up to 15 years in prison under Michigan law. But Judge George Buth of Kent County’s Circuit Court, after hearing what the victim’s family had to say, honored their wishes in a profound way. He sentenced Welch to five years of probation.

“In a lot of ways, you’re very fortunate,” Judge Buth told Welch during the sentencing hearing. “Many come through this court, and other courts in this building, and end up with substantial prison time under similar circumstances.” Which is an amazing gift, when you consider the circumstances, although we can’t imagine that Welch isn’t aware of that.

After all, the family could have been bitter, vengeful, or unforgiving. And many would say that they had a right to be. But instead, a young woman who lost her sister to someone else’s mistake, chose to show compassion. Chose not to compound a young man’s broken heart by isolating him from the remaining family and loved ones he has. Instead, in a rare display of forgiveness and kindness, one family begged for a man’s freedom, that many would have said was undeserving. Why? Because they loved him.

“We would all agree that he has an enormous heart, and without hesitation, would do anything to help the people he loved the most,” Anna Garza told the court. “For this and so much more, Brian will always be like a son to my mother, an uncle to my children and a brother to our sisters.”

Under Michigan Crime Victims Rights legislation, family members are given a voice at sentencing. We applaud judges and prosecutors who listen when a family is requesting leniency in a tragic situation.

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