By NIKKI YOUNK
IRON MOUNTAIN - An Iron Mountain man who seriously injured a woman in a drunk driving accident will spend the next 12 months in jail.
Nikki Younk/Daily News Photo
Jeffery Steele, right, appears for sentencing in Dickinson County Circuit Court with his defense attorney Kalen Lipe. Steele will spend a year in jail for seriously injuring a Niagara, Wis. woman in a drunk driving crash.
Jeffery Steele, 21, also must serve two years of probation and pay a minimum of $15,000 in restitution to the victim. He was granted work release.
Steele was sentenced Monday in Dickinson County Circuit Court on one felony count of operating while intoxicated causing serious injury.
The charge stems from a Dec. 20, 2013 incident in Breitung Township.
According to information from the Dickinson County Sheriff's Department, Steele was driving a pickup truck north on U.S. 141 near the Niagara bridge when he crossed the center line. His vehicle side-swiped one vehicle, then collided head-on with a second vehicle.
The driver of the second vehicle, 53-year-old Beth Baker of Niagara, Wis., suffered two broken arms, two broken legs, a broken hip, a broken ankle, three broken ribs, and a lacerated liver as a result of the accident.
Steele's blood alcohol concentration was around .25 at the time of the accident, according to the criminal complaint.
During the sentencing hearing, defense attorney Kalen Lipe described Steele as a "caring and compassionate young man."
Lipe noted that Steele works a full-time job, assists on his family's farm, and does community service activities through the farm.
"He has a deep sense of responsibility to the world he lives in," she said. "This has been a difficult time for him, but not as much as for the victim and her family."
Lipe suggested that Steele's fines and court costs be reduced and a payroll deduction be set in place so he can pay as much restitution as possible.
Dickinson County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Carl Downing pointed out that Steele was only 20 years old when the offense occurred, and that his blood alcohol concentration was more than three times the legal limit.
"It's surprising he was even conscious with that BAC," he said. "It suggests a high level of alcohol abuse that requires inpatient treatment."
Downing added that Baker was in hospitals and a nursing home for months, at times not even able to move on her own.
"It's a miracle that Beth is alive and here today," he said.
Baker was in attendance at the hearing in order to speak on her own behalf.
Before the accident, she worked as the director of the Dickinson County Library, was a caregiver for her mother, and enjoyed outdoor activities. She said that she has now lost most of her independence.
"I can no longer do many things on my own," she explained. "Our income is cut in half and we've depleted our savings."
Baker added that she is in constant pain, and that her doctor informed her that her injuries have aged her body 20 years.
Steele then apologized to Baker and her family.
"I wish I had the power to turn back time," he said. "All I can do now is express my biggest apologies and sorrows."
Judge Richard Celello told Steele that his crime was serious enough to warrant prison time. However, he felt that it was more important for Steele to keep his job through jail work release and start making restitution payments.
He allowed the reduction in fines and court costs and ordered that restitution remain open.
Nikki Younk's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.