Judge Ryan's Blog

My First Fatality Case

Eight years ago today I was sitting in my office on the second floor of the DA’s office in the Criminal Courthouse. I had recently been assigned to the new Vehicle Crimes Section. There were just three of us assigned to that section, we few cases at the time, but we a vision on how to professionally prosecute vehicle fatalities. December 16, 2008 was cloudy and rainy, just like today. I looked out the window and it was familiar.

That afternoon I got my first vehicle fatality call. A 13 year old girl had been struck and killed by a car right after she got off her school bus in Cypress. The driver had run a stop sign, glanced off the front of the bus and hit Nicole. He fled the scene going about another two miles on a sparking rim before being cornered by police. For the next year and half the case consumed me. Not only did I get to know the family, but I had to interview every 6th, 7th, and 8th grader from that bus to find out who saw what. I will never forget their stories, their tears, and their empty stares. The media covered it, MADD was very engaged and eventually the Legislature passed a new package of drunk driving laws, lead by my dad, called the Nicole Lalime Act.

On the eve of trial he plead to 30 years in prison and I pushed hard to make part of his plea that he keep a picture of Nicole in his cell. It should still be there today. On the day he was sentenced the courtroom was packed. The jury box was full, the aisles were full – all friends from her school.

There are moments in your life that you can recall with exceptional clarity. The details of this case, the meetings I had, walking up and down that street all stay with me. It was a defining moment in my professional career. For the next three years I volunteered on overnight shifts to take calls of vehicle fatalities and work the cases from the scene with the officers. It was awful, and incredibly rewarding at the same time.

I never met Nicole, yet I will never forget her.