The judge in the case in which a woman who ran a red light and killed a Normal Park schoolteacher is appealing her workhouse sentence has recused himself.
Defense attorney Jonathan Turner said he did not know why Judge Don Poole decided to step away from the case.
The judge on Tuesday morning had heard an appeal from Neshala Massengale, who ran a light at the intersection of Brainerd and Elmwood Road in January 2019, crashing into Bethany Schklar’s vehicle. Ms. Schklar sustained a serious head injury and died a few days later.
Ms. Massengale pled guilty to speeding and driving without insurance in General Sessions Court in August and was sentenced to 90 days in the workhouse, followed by nine more months of house arrest and community service days. She avoided vehicular homicide charges despite going around 50 miles per hour in a 35-mile-per-hour zone.
Investigators pointed out that the sun made it difficult to see what color the light was, and her defense attorney said she was on her way to work. Ms. Massengale was only appealing the 90-day active time sentence, citing how crippling it would be when it came to her ability to provide for her children as a single mother.
“If I go to jail, I do not have any way of supporting my kids, and I will lose my house that I’ve been in for over six years, I will lose the career that allows me to take care of my kids,” said Ms. Massengale. “I do not receive any governmental assistance or aid, which I am very proud of. And again, I want to offer my sincerest condolences to Ms. Bethany’s family. I would do anything to bring her back, but unfortunately that I cannot. I just ask the judge to see that I am not a horrible person.”
Ms. Schklar’s mother was unimpressed with Ms. Massengale’s apology. She alluded to a social media post, where the defendant allegedly made remarks about “getting her curves back” a few weeks after the crash. She said Ms. Massengale did not seem to be apologetic or remorseful on the post. She pleaded with the judge to impose the maximum punishment.
“I recognize the sentence you impose will not bring Bethany back to us, nor will it alleviate the financial stress Josh faces every day,” said the mother of the Teacher of the Year. “ I simply ask for you to consider the value of my daughter’s life to her husband, her son, her friends, her students, to her family and to me as her mother. Alongside the defendants willful and heedless actions as she made her decision.”
“In this horrific year, only one person has dared to say to me that “Everything happens for a reason,” and the reason here is very simple,” said her mother. “Ms. Massengale has admitted she willfully chose to drive that day, even though she was prohibited by law from doing so because she lacked proof of financial responsibility.”
The officer who responded to the crash said that Ms. Massengale was remorseful every time he spoke to her after the crash, and the probation officer told Judge Don Poole that she had been in perfect compliance with her house arrest rules.
After listening to the testimony from various sources, Judge Poole had decided he needed a few days to think about how he should rule. There were questions about case law and whether or not he was imposing a new sentence, or just reinforcing an already-established one.
“I’m not going to make a decision today,” said the judge on Tuesday. “I’m going to review everything that’s been presented today, and, quite frankly, I would like to look at some law as well in regard to this. I would like to, if it’s not a complete inconvenience to either side, come back on Thursday morning.”