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Woman sentenced to prison in death of baby

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By Gretchen Schlosser

West Central Tribune

OLIVIA -- Nicolle Marie Mercedes Prechel, 31, of Willmar, received the state guideline sentence Thursday of 58 months in prison for causing the death of a 3-month-old baby and injuring his mother in July.

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The sentence was handed down by District Judge Steven Drange in Renville Co-unty District Co-urt.

It came after an emotional hearing at which the child's parents asked for no leniency for Prechel. Prechel cried and apologized for her actions and her attorneys sought chemical dependency treatment instead of prison time for their client.

Dressed in orange jail clothing, Prechel rose from her chair and apologized to the baby's parents and family when she was called upon to provide her statement.

"To know that I'm responsible, I can barely live with that," she said, crying and sobbing.

Prechel was sentenced on charges of criminal vehicular homicide for the July 5 death of Whyatt James Sander and criminal vehicular injury for injuring his mother, Sheena Hinshaw. Prechel had backed over their tent with a minivan after a night of drinking most of a liter of Southern Comfort whiskey and smoking marijuana. The incident happened at Renville County's Beaver Falls Park.

The baby, the son of Prechel's cousin Jacob Sander, was declared dead soon after he arrived at Redwood Falls Hospital. Prechel was arrested while driving the same van to the hospital. Toxicology tests showed she had a blood-alcohol level of 0.13 percent and traces of marijuana in her system about three hours after the incident.

Hinshaw read her victim impact statement aloud in the courtroom. "I ask that you show no leniency to Nicolle," she read as she cried. "My first-born son was lost to her senseless act."

She continued, saying that the physical pain has diminished and that the tire tread marks on her back have turned into scars, but that the emotional pain remains with her.

County Attorney Glen Jacobsen read Jacob Sander's statement into the record. The baby's father related that he cannot rid his mind of the image of his baby rolling out of the tent and that he wakes every morning with that scene in his mind. "Whyatt received a life sentence in the ground," Sander wrote.

Statements by the baby's grandparents were also taken into the record. Time may pass for the community, wrote Monica Bliss Ockwig, Jacob Sander's mother. "We are still living those realities," she wrote. "Every day is that day. Every month is that month. Every year will be this year."

Public Defenders Curt Reese and Joseph Parise argued that Prechel should be sent into residential chemical dependency treatment and serve local jail time and probation instead of prison time. Their client is remorseful for her actions, Reese said.

"There was and continues to be remorse by my client," Reese said. "The public, the press, the world doesn't get to see that."

Drange denied the defense motion, noting that Prechel's performance on probation for felony fifth-degree controlled substance possession in Kandiyohi County was "poor" and that her use of alcohol and drugs in July was in violation of that probation.

While the accident that caused the baby's death and the mother's injury was not intentional, the judge said, "She did intend to use alcohol and knew it was a violation of her probation. The result was predictable."

Prechel does need long-term chemical dependency treatment, which is available at the state women's prison at Shakopee, the judge said before handing down the sentence. He called the sentence, as recommended by a pre-sentence investigation, appropriate.

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