The former owner of a Whiteclay, Neb., grocery store pleaded not guilty to driving drunk and killing two pedestrians, then leaving the scene of the accident.
Timothy Hotz, 60, of Rushville, Neb., pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court on Thursday to an indictment charging him with two counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count of hit and run resulting in death.
Hotz is accused of hitting Calonnie Randall, 26, Wanblee, and Robert Whirlwind Horse, 22, Manderson, late Aug. 27 as they walked on the highway between Whiteclay and Pine Ridge.
Roberta Ecoffey lives just south of Pine Ridge along that highway. She said Randall and Whirlwind Horse were walking on a shoulder as wide as the driving lane, where many people walk, and that that stretch of road is well lit.
Ecoffey has seen plenty of accidents outside her windows. But this one, which happened about 100 yards from her house, dealt a crushing blow: Randall had three young children with Ecoffey's son, Louis Tyon.
"It was just devastating," Ecoffey said.
In addition to Ecoffey's grandchildren, who are 6, 4, and 2, Randall had an 11-year-old, a 9-year-old and an 8-year-old. All of the children are currently living with other relatives. Randall, whom Ecoffey described as a beauty, had struggled with alcohol for years and attended treatment. Just three weeks before she died, she called Ecoffey, saying she needed help with her addiction.
Ecoffey had strong hopes for the mother of her grandchildren. She herself is a recovering alcoholic, sober now for 32 years. She quit drinking at 28.
"(Calonnie) was only 26 years old, so she had a chance," Ecoffey said. "And she was expressing a desire to (quit)."
Ecoffey believes Randall's children might have eventually helped motivate her to stay sober.
"I know she loved her kids," she said. "I felt like there would come a time when they would become a family."
Ecoffey wants some good to come from Randall's and Whirlwind Horse's deaths. She'd like to plan a march, maybe lobby for stricter laws. "Things just got to change," she said.
But for now, she is busy helping care for her 6-year-old granddaughter, Deondra, and praying that she and her siblings will be able to handle their loss as well as possible.
"You just know that they will be okay in time," Ecoffey said. "But they'll never have their mother again."
Hotz was released from custody in order to attend alcohol treatment.
He is the former owner of Jack & Jill Grocery in Whiteclay, now the Whiteclay Market, and currently works at Ideal Market in Rushville.
If convicted of manslaughter, Hotz would face a maximum of eight years in prison on each of the two counts, plus a $250,000 fine. If convicted of hit and run, he would face a maximum of two years in prison and a $4,000 fine.