Micah Koch was sentenced Monday to 180 days in jail and five years of probation in the death of Korey Huebner.
Koch, 25, will also lose his driver’s license for five years. He must stay away from alcohol and submit to random searches and sobriety tests.
Also, Lincoln County District Judge Donald Rowlands ordered Koch to write a letter of explanation and apology to the family of Huebner, who died when the pickup that Koch was driving slammed into an embankment.
Koch missed a turn north of Sutherland the night of Jan. 27, 2013. His blood alcohol content was 0.21, prosecutors said. Seatbelts were not in use.
In the packed courtroom Rowlands told Koch that he might be able to explain in a letter why at first he told emergency responders that he wasn’t driving the pickup. Koch also said at first that he didn’t know Huebner, even though they had been friends since age 5.
“Maybe you can also explain to the family why you didn’t hold her hand and comfort her the last few minutes of her life,” Rowlands added.
After the wreck, all three occupants of the pickup were taken to the Great Plains Regional Medical. Doctors were reluctant to give up on the 24-year-old Huebner, a 2012 honor nursing graduate of the University of Nebraska Medical Center. She was life-flighted to Kearney’s Good Samaritan Hospital, without success.
An autopsy confirmed she died from injuries in the accident.
Since then, Koch completed an alcohol abuse treatment program and remained sober, he testified on the witness stand before the sentence was handed down.
Presentence investigators rated Koch as extremely low risk to reoffend – the lowest risk rating that Rowlands and County Attorney Rebecca Harling have ever seen.
Rowlands said the presentence investigation was exhaustive, comprising two volumes. And, he said he’d received more letters about Koch and the effects on the Huebner family than he’d ever received in any case during his 28 years on the bench.
“I’ve read them all,” he said of the letters.
Defense Attorney Blaine Gillette called Koch to the stand. Koch testified that he went into alcohol treatment three weeks after the wreck and successfully completed a 37-day program. He also sees a counselor and a sponsor regularly.
“Have you consumed alcohol (since then)?” Gillette asked him.
“No,” Koch said.
“Have you maintained sobriety?” Gillette asked.
“Yes,” he answered.
In her remarks, County Attorney Rebecca Harling said, “This has been a terrible tragedy for the victim’s family. I’m not sure they will ever be the same because of the loss.”
But, Harling noted that presentence investigators felt probation is appropriate. She did not recommend prison.
“I know it haunts him (Micah),” she added.
When Gillette spoke, he said “everyone in this room – prosecutors, myself, friends and families wish there were somehow, someway to undo the events that have brought heartache and devastation to the families.”
“There is no question that Korey was a loving daughter,” Gillette said. “That has come through loud and clear.”
“I’ve never had as many letters on behalf of a client has I have on my client’s behalf,” he said.
“This is a tragic situation,” he said, “but Micah has taken responsibility for it. He entered a plea to the most serious charge. He’s been responsible -- civilly as well as in the criminal case.”
Gillette noted that Koch’s substance abuse counselor said he has been responsible and consistent in his recovery program.
Gilette then asked for probation, adding, “that does not in anyway diminish the loss the (Huebner) family has suffered.”
Koch spoke before sentencing.
“I just want to apologize to everyone,” he said. “If I could take it back, I would.” He said alcohol abuse is something he knows he has to deal with.
Some people in the crowd wiped tears as probation was sentenced.
“I hope I’m correct,” Rowlands told Koch. “If you come back, you’ll be looking at the state penitentiary for a long time.”
Harling and Rowlands also noted that Koch will not be able to possess a firearm because he is a convicted felon. He was handcuffed and escorted to jail. Rowlands allowed him 37 days credit for the time in treatment and said he could apply for work release.
Afterwards, nearly 70 spectators, representing both families as well as close friends, filed out of the courtroom.