The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

By Rob Langrell
Publisher of The Sidney Sun-Telegraph 

Graham receives probation in fatal texting-while-driving case


The Sidney teen who pleaded “no contest” to a charge stemming from a head-on fatal crash this past summer received probation during his sentencing on Tuesday afternoon.

Hayden Graham, a 17-year-old junior at Sidney High School, was driving a vehicle on July 31 that crossed the center line on Highway 30, about five miles east of Sidney, and collided with a car driven by 19-year-old Karman Reichman of Chappell. She died the following day.

During a 45-minute hearing on Tuesday, Cheyenne County District Court Judge Randin R. Roland told the crowded courtroom “that no one would be happy with what happens here today” prior to sentencing.

“In a blink of an eye, so many lives changed in an instant,” he said.

Roland's sentence for Graham included:

• Two years of supervised probation,

• Developing a program – coordinated with Sheriff John Jensen – that shows the dangers of cell phone use while driving,

• 109 hours of community service,

• Impounding of his driver’s license immediately for 19 months, with no driving allowed at all,

• Having the texting feature on his personal cell phone disabled for 19 months,

• Installation of an application after his license is returned in 19 months that would make his cell phone inoperable while the car is in use,

• Watching the eulogy video that was played at Reichman’s memorial service within a week while in the presence of his probation officer, as well as on Reichman’s birthday and the crash date under probation supervision,

• Providing a letter of apology to Reichman’s family within 30 days,

• Reading all of the letters and victim impact statements that were part of the predisposition under probation supervisor,

• Continuing counseling until such a date where his advocate feels it is no longer necessary,

• Completing two driving classes: Alive at 25 and Attitudinal Dynamics of Driving.

As part of an agreement, Graham entered a “no contest” plea on Sept. 18 to misdemeanor motor vehicle homicide. As part of the deal, charges of driving left of center, use of a handheld wireless communication device while driving and use of a handheld communication device in violation of a provisional operator’s permit were dropped.

A civil case against Graham and his family is pending in court.

Prior to the accident, Graham had attended the Cheyenne County Fair with his younger brother and a friend. Afterward, Graham dropped his brother off at home and then took his friend, who lives in Chappell, to his residence. Graham was returning to Sidney when the crash took place.

Authorities said Graham admitted to texting on his drive back to Sidney, and said he couldn’t remember if he was doing so just before the crash.

Graham’s cell phone – an iPhone – was taken into evidence that night and an investigation showed last he had last sent a text message at 11:31 p.m. on the night of the wreck and last received a message at 11:33 p.m. The last message that Graham received had not been opened and read. Graham called 911 at 11:35 p.m.

He told law enforcement that he was knocked unconscious just after the wreck. When Graham regained consciousness, he retrieved his phone from his vehicle and called 911, according to the incident report.

Roland listened to county attorney Paul Schaub and Graham’s lawyer Tom Sonntag make their respective sentencing recommendations prior to imposing his sanctions.

Graham, dressed in a purple polo shirt and jeans, dabbed his eyes several times with a tissue while listening to the descriptions of the accounts of the night of the crash and the days and weeks following. He declined to speak in court.

Graham’s parents – Chad and Rebecca – were in court as well as several family members and supporters from his church and school.

Roland read excerpts of several victim impact statements that brought tears from several of Reichman’s family members.

“She was a daughter, a sister and extremely attentive to others and was loved very much by her friends,” Roland said in court. “On July 31, in an accident that Mr. Graham was responsible for, that all changed. Leading up to the collision, there was a record of a text messages that Mr. Graham was responsible for.”

Roland also implored Graham, who avoided jail time, to take his sentencing serious.

“If you violate any of the terms of your probation, we’ll be back here in court and everything would be back on the table,” Roland said. “Today is a tragedy. My hope is that you can make a difference in people’s lives.

“Hayden, my hope is that we’re never back in this courtroom in a situation like this ever again,” he continued. “You can make a difference.”


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