A Rapid City woman received a 15-year prison sentence Tuesday for killing her friend when she crashed a motorcycle trike while driving with more than three times the legal limit of alcohol in her system.
"Your actions killed a person," Judge Robert Gusinsky told Sophia Elbow Shield at the state court.
Gusinsky sentenced Elbow Shield to the maximum 15-year sentence after she pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide for killing her passenger, 62-year-old Brian Minor of Rapid City, on July 14, 2018, in Box Elder. He suspended seven years of the sentence, which means Elbow Shield will spend at least eight years in prison and seven on parole.
As part of the plea deal, the prosecution will dismiss two DUI counts and charges of careless driving, driving with a suspended license, and driving without a motorcycle license.
No friends or family of Minor or Elbow Shield attended the sentencing and little is known about the victim. But Elizabeth Regalado, Elbow Shield's defense lawyer, said her client described her friend as a good person, listener and advice-giver.
Arman Zeljkovic, a prosecutor with the Pennington County State's Attorney Office, said Elbow Shield deserved the maximum 15-year sentence. He said while vehicular homicide was her first felony, she was convicted of DUIs in 1999, 2014 and 2017 and hasn't expressed true remorse.
She has "not taken responsibility for her actions," Zeljkovic said.
Zeljkovic said that when Elbow Shield was taken to the hospital after the crash, she told police that it was Minor who was driving and later repeated the claim in a letter to Gusinsky — despite multiple witnesses putting her behind the wheel. He said Elbow Shield's later letters spoke about how she wanted to speed up the trial so she could receive treatment and be with her children, but made no mention of Minor.
He said while Elbow Shield has mental health problems and had a traumatic childhood, it was ultimately her choice to make the "selfish" decision to drink and drive.
Regalado said her client was sexually and physically abused as a child, had to drop out of school when she became pregnant at age 15, and was abused by the father of her child.
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She said Elbow Shield initially denied responsibility for her actions because she couldn't believe what she had done, and her memory may have been impacted by alcohol and her injuries.
But she said her client was able to to take responsibility and begin to address her past trauma through mental health counseling at the Pennington County Jail. Elbow Shield admitted to drinking and using methamphetamine before the accident and feels "deep remorse and regret" for her actions.
Regalado did not ask for a specific sentence, but said she wants her client to receive the treatment she needs.
"I know what had happened was my fault," Elbow Shield told Gusinsky through tears.
Elbow Shield and Minor had been drinking and gambling the night of July 13, and Minor took Elbow shield on a motorcycle ride, Regalado said. Elbow Shield continued to drink and used meth when they met up the next morning, and Minor decided to teach Elbow Shield how to drive the trike.
The crash occurred when Elbow Shield was traveling north on Liberty Boulevard around 1:30 p.m. and "was driving too fast and she did not have control" as she turned left onto the Interstate 90 ramp at mile marker 67, according to the incident report from the Department of Public Safety.
After losing control of the trike, Elbow Shield went off the roadway, into a ditch and plowed through a barbed wire fence, causing the fence to wrap around the front forks of the vehicle.
"Both driver and passenger were thrown from the motorcycle due to the barbed wire hitting them," the report says.
Minor died at the scene from a cut to his neck, Zeljkovic said. Elbow Shield had multiple broken bones and needed surgery to reconstruct the shattered bone around her eye, Regalado said. Neither was wearing a helmet, the report says.
Minor was not drunk at the time of the accident but Elbow Shield had an "incredibly high" .284 blood alcohol content, Regalado said. The legal BAC limit to drive in South Dakota is .08.
Elbow Shield is expected to return to court for a restitution hearing at 2:30 p.m. on June 25. Zeljkovic said the owner of the motorcycle has requested $9,000, but Regalado said the woman has provided no proof for how much the vehicle was worth.
This story has been updated to correct that Elbow Shield will be put on parole, not probation, and that Zeljkovic, not Gusinsky, will drop Elbow Shield's other charges.