Wasilla man sentenced in Parks Highway fatality

Kyle Bissonette, 21, given five years in prison for causing wreck

Posted: Wednesday, October 28, 2009

WASILLA - A 21-year-old passenger in the front seat of a sport utility vehicle was sentenced to five years in prison for causing a highway wreck that killed a teenager and an unborn child.

Kyle Bissonette admitted grabbing the wheel of the vehicle and jerking it to the right. The driver - a 15-year-old girl who authorities say did not have a license - overcorrected and drove head-on into the path of a small sedan.

Assistant District Attorney Rick Allen called the incident stupid and pointless.

"It shows the danger of kids getting drunk and acting stupid and fooling around in a car," he said Monday.

In an agreement with prosecutors, Bissonette had pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide of an unborn child, criminally negligent homicide, and assault. He was sentenced Friday to eight years in prison with three years suspended, plus five years probation.

Bissonette took a moment to collect himself before apologizing.

"All I can do is pray that someday you will forgive me for this terrible accident that never should have happened," he said.

Bissonette was one of four passengers in an SUV on Sept. 20, 2008.

All four passengers were drunk, Allen said, and were heading down the highway to buy marijuana. The driver was sober but didn't have a license, Allen said. She was scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday on a charge of driving without a license.

Bissonette was horsing around when he pulled the steering wheel, said his attorney, Paul Stockler. The SUV crossed the center line and crashed into a car. All five people in the SUV were injured, and one, 16-year-old Chelsea Johnston, later died.

In the other car, Tim Abell and his daughter, Donna Gallant, also were injured. Gallant was pregnant and a few days away from delivering a baby girl, Allen said. The unborn child died.

Abell testified at the sentencing, carrying the child's ashes in a cream-colored box he gently placed on the lectern.

"This is my granddaughter. She should be somewhere else besides in this box," he said. "She should be a year old, bouncing on my knee."

Abell argued that Bissonette should serve as much time as possible. If the SUV had experienced a mechanical failure or hit an ice patch, it would be another matter, he said.

Gallant's mother, Diane Abell, read a statement from her daughter.

"I didn't know for three days after the accident that my daughter was gone," she said. "I can't stand for long periods of time without my hip or my ankle hurting."

Gallant asked for the maximum sentence for Bissonette.

Stockler said Bissonette and his friends had tried to make the right decision before the crash by choosing the 15-year-old to drive. Bissonette took responsibility for his actions and has not tried to blame anyone else, Stockler said.

Stockler asked for a three-year sentence. Superior Court Judge Eric Smith chose the longer term for Bissonette.

"It's horrible that he had to take this lesson. And the victims certainly didn't deserve having to teach this lesson," the judge said.

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