POCATELLO — A local man was sentenced Thursday to serve at least four years in prison for felony vehicular manslaughter, a charge stemming from a June crash that killed an American Falls mother who was riding as a passenger in his vehicle.
Thomas Z. Stamus, 25, of Pocatello, pleaded guilty to one count of vehicular manslaughter in front of 6th District Judge Robert C. Naftz at the Bannock County Courthouse in Pocatello in October for causing a crash that killed a 26-year-old mother, Rheanna Archer.
In addition to ordering restitution and child support to the victim’s 3-year-old daughter, Naftz sentenced Stamus on Thursday to serve a unified 14 years in prison, of which Stamus must serve four years behind bars before being eligible for parole.
“I wish you the very best of luck,” Naftz said in handing down the sentence. “Your conduct has ruined the lives of two families here and that’s what happens when you make choices like this.”
Stamus was criminally charged with vehicular manslaughter following a single-vehicular crash on East Fork Mink Creek Road in Bannock County just south of Pocatello around 11:30 p.m. June 14.
Stamus was driving eastbound on East Fork Mink Creek Road in a 2018 Nissan Sentra when he failed to negotiate a left turn in the roadway and veered off the right shoulder down an embankment, according to an Idaho State Police news release. The vehicle rolled several times and came to rest on its passenger side against a grove of pine trees, state police said.
When Idaho State Police troopers arrived, Stamus was in and out of consciousness and was located on top of Archer, who was riding as a passenger in the car. Though neither occupant of the vehicle was wearing a seatbelt, they were not ejected from the vehicle, state police said.
Archer succumbed to her injuries at the scene and Stamus was taken by air ambulance to Portneuf Medical Center in Pocatello, state police said.
Stamus suffered a back injury during the crash, court records say. Stamus appeared in court Thursday in a wheelchair.
State police troopers said in its June news release that it suspected alcohol was involved in the crash. According to court records, Stamus made statements at the crash scene that he had been drinking and authorities could detect a strong odor of alcohol on his breath.
Stamus refused to voluntarily allow PMC staff to draw his blood to check his blood alcohol content level, and authorities were forced to obtain a warrant to obtain a blood sample. During the sentencing hearing, Naftz said Stamus had a blood alcohol content level of 0.152, nearly twice the legal limit in Idaho. Moreover, Naftz said Stamus’ bloodwork showed evidence of several recreational drugs and prescription painkillers in his system.
Although Stamus did not cooperate with authorities initially, Naftz noted that the sentence he imposed was impacted by Stamus cooperating during the adjudication of his case. Stamus not only waived a hearing to determine if there was enough evidence to take his case to trial, but he also pleaded guilty to the charge during his arraignment hearing, something Naftz said is a rarity in Idaho district court hearings.
Naftz also took into account Stamus’ non-existent criminal history and several victim impact statements, one from Archer’s mother, stepfather and sister, as well as a statement from Stamus.
Archer’s mother, Wendie Shramek, was quite emotional during her testimony, which centered mostly on the notion that she has to try and explain the concept of death to Archer’s 3-year-old girl, Ellie, who must now grow up without a mother.
“Ellie has had a very difficult time, as she’s too young to understand the concept of death,” Shramek said. “All she knows is she desperately wants her mother and she’s not there because somebody thought they were above the law.”
As she spoke, Shramek displayed a picture of Archer holding Ellie, a child Archer called her “miracle baby” because she was conceived after Archer was told she couldn’t bear children and was delivered prematurely. Pleading with the judge to impose a strict sentence that would not only show Stamus there are repercussions for his actions, but could also serve as a deterrent to others who contemplate getting behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated, Shramek called into question Stamus’ level of remorse, something he spoke to specifically during his statement.
“I want to begin by saying how sorry I am for what I did,” Stamus said, fighting back emotions. “No words can express the amount of sorrow that I have because of the decisions that I made that night. I recognize that my decision to drink that night and drive a vehicle resulted in the loss of one of the most kind and wonderful humans I have ever met.”
After her statement, Shramek embraced Stamus’ mother inside the courtroom gallery with a hug, and the two women cried in each other’s arms for several moments.
Following the hearing, Shramek was discouraged, saying she felt the sentence was “a slap on the wrist.”
Stamus is due back in front of Naftz for a hearing on Feb. 6, during which Bannock County prosecutors will present to Naftz how much restitution and child support it plans to request.
In reference to the sentence, Bannock County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Brian Trammel said, “Considering the circumstances and facts of this case, I feel the sentence imposed was appropriate.”