Harris County, Texas-- The family of a woman killed in a drunk driving crash says they waited for justice for more than two years, even though the driver responsible pleaded guilty.
The fatal accident happened on October 25, 2014. Heather Rankel was driving to pick her daughter up from a bowling alley in Tomball. Her husband, a firefighter, knew something was wrong when she never showed up.
“I made some phone calls and left my fire station. I called a buddy of mine who works for dispatch. He told me there was one fatality accident working in Harris County,” said Richie Rankel.
Rankel knew the victim was his wife.
The suspect, Heather Green, was charged with Intoxication Manslaughter.
Since the accident two years ago, the case was reset 17 times. On Friday, the sentencing hearing finally took place.
The family says Green was sentenced to 10 years in prison for Intoxication Manslaughter.
But the lengthy process made a devastating situation even worse.
“If I’m feeling this, how many other people are going through this in the criminal court system or in the District Attorney’s office in Harris County? The families are now the victims because of the emotional, psychological and mental stress that’s imposed on them,” said Rankel.
He added, “They’re overworked. They’re understaffed. They’re underpaid. They cannot handle the caseloads whether it’s in the District Court, in the DA’s office, or with the criminal courts.”
Prosecutor Allison Bainbridge says it is not unusual for a case to take years to move through the system.
“We have cases in courts that can be resolved in a year. We have some cases still pending from four or five years ago,” said Bainbridge. “I can say that our office carries more cases, if not the same amount, that Cook County, IL does. They have three times the number of prosecutors that we do, but we handle our cases. We handle each cases as if it is the only case that matters to us.”
She explained it’s also normal for a case to be reset about every 30 days. In Green’s case, many of the delays were due to a change in defense attorneys.
A Pre-Sentence Investigation Hearing, was rescheduled this week. Prosecutors say it’s because some information hadn’t been provided to the court for the judge to review.
The court handling the case declined to comment Wednesday.
“I hope [the family] understands that all of the resets and the waiting, at some point in time it isn’t necessarily worth it, but it makes sense because it will be final and they won’t have to do it again,” said Bainbridge.
That’s what the victim’s family hoped would happen on Friday.
“I have made my peace with the driver and it’s time for the case to close so our family can move on completely. It’s a chapter that has been left unfinished and it needs to be finalized,” said Rankel.
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