A former Pine Ridge corrections officer is set to plead guilty in federal court to involuntary manslaughter after a two-vehicle collision that killed one woman and injured two others in 2015.
Under a plea agreement, 27-year-old Sophia Janis, of Porcupine, admitted to killing Theresa Martinez, 58, by driving recklessly on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation while surfing the web on her cellphone. She faces up to eight years in prison.
According to court records, the accident occurred on July 30, 2015, while Janis was driving a Ford Expedition transport vehicle of the Oglala Sioux Tribe Department of Corrections. She was then an employee of the tribal police and corrections department.
Janis was driving east on U.S. Highway 18 when she attempted to turn north onto Bureau of Indian Affairs Highway 27 at the Wounded Knee Junction.
“Janis was looking at her iPhone at the internet webpage Facebook as she drove the corrections vehicle,” reads the statement of facts in the case, which bears Janis' signature.
Her SUV crossed into oncoming traffic on Highway 18 and collided with a 2005 Chrysler minivan that was traveling in the the westbound lane.
Martinez, a Martin resident who was a passenger in the minivan, suffered a fractured spine and died less than a week later. The driver, Colene Bald Eagle, had her right leg amputated below the knee after undergoing five surgeries, according to separate court document. A second female passenger also was injured.
The statement of facts says Janis, also known as Sophia Janis Blacksmith, caused Martinez’s death without malice but also without due caution and circumspection.
Janis is scheduled to plead guilty at the federal courthouse in Rapid City on April 28. The Oglala Sioux corrections department said she is no longer with the agency.
Meanwhile, Martinez's estate and the surviving victims have filed a civil case against the federal government, alleging negligence.
As an employee of the Oglala Sioux tribal police and corrections department, Janis was acting on behalf of the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs when the accident occurred, according to the complaint filed by Bald Eagle last year. The case is still being heard in Rapid City federal court.
Distracted driving, which includes driving while on a cellphone or another electronic device, was a contributing factor in 1,125 South Dakota crashes in 2015, according to data from the Department of Public Safety. That is the most recent year for which figures have been released.
The FBI, which compiles crime data on Pine Ridge, does not track cellphone use that leads to vehicular crashes.