FORT EDWARD -- Washington County Judge Kelly McKeighan found Deana Olsen guilty Thursday of criminally negligent homicide and lesser counts in the August 2011 crash that killed a Kingsbury woman.
Olsen, 36, of Queensbury, was found to have been using a “portable electronic device” and driving recklessly when she went off Route 4 and hit Terry Brownell as she cut grass in front of her home on Aug. 27, 2011.
In addition to the felony count, McKeighan convicted Olsen of misdemeanor reckless driving and the traffic violations of using a handheld portable electronic device, reckless driving and failure to keep right.
Olsen bowed her head as she learned the verdict, and cried minutes later before she left court. Several loved ones of Brownell have been in court for the trial, one saying “It’s a little late” as Olsen wept.
Brownell’s mother and sister declined comment on the verdict as they left court.
McKeighan allowed Olsen to remain free on her own recognizance pending sentence March 28, though he warned her about contact with witnesses in the case after allegations arose that she confronted one of the people who testified against her.
She faces a maximum of 1-1/3 to 4 years in state prison when sentenced March 28.
Washington County District Attorney Kevin Kortright said he plans to seek the maximum prison sentence.
“It’s a sad case,” he said. “Terry Brownell lost her life because of the defendant’s actions.”
Kortright said the case was an example of the consequences of distracted driving, and said Washington County has started a distracted driving education course through the county Alternative Sentencing Agency, in part because of Brownell’s death.
Olsen had been charged with second-degree manslaughter and second-degree vehicular manslaughter, but those charges were dismissed Wednesday during trial. A charge she drove under the influence of drugs, specifically marijuana and codeine, were also dismissed.
Her lawyer, Marc Zuckerman, said he was pleased that the judge saw that the weightier charges were not appropriate, but he said he believed she should not have been convicted of criminally negligent homicide, either.
“I still maintain my client didn’t commit any crime,” Zuckerman said. “It was a tragic accident.”
He said he had not discussed with his client whether the verdict would be appealed.
Olsen opted for a bench trial, where the judge decides guilt, instead of a jury trial.
The verdict came after a two-day trial in which two drivers testified that Olsen had passed multiple vehicles, tried to pass at least one vehicle in a no-passing zone and was driving aggressively before she lost control of the Jeep Cherokee she was driving.
The two also said it appeared Olsen had a device like a cellphone in her hands, one of them saying it appeared her hands were moving on the device moments before the crash.
The defense had tried to blame one of the drivers for Olsen losing control, saying he drove aggressively and kept her from passing by moving out of his lane. Zuckerman said the driver braked suddenly and that caused Olsen to lose control of her SUV.
Kortright, though, said that driver, Kalub Lavin, was not to blame.
The confrontation that prompted a warning from McKeighan occurred Wednesday afternoon in the county Municipal Center. The witness, Katie Ballard, works for the county, and for an unknown reason Olsen and her husband were walking in a hallway near her office Wednesday when they passed Ballard, Kortright said.
Olsen bumped against Ballard and was heard to say, “There’s the bitch that lied about me,” Kortright said.
Zuckerman, though, said Olsen said she did not have any contact with the witness and did not speak to her.
Olsen is free on her own recognizance pending sentencing.