On Christmas Eve in 2011, 18-month old Colum Pack was sitting in the back seat of the family car with his 3-year old brother Finn, without even a thought of the future. It was Christmas, after all. What was there to expect but gifts and the love of family. “I don’t remember ever being this excited for Christmas before,” Kelly Pack, Colum’s mother, would later tell the Third District Court.
That innocent view of the world changed drastically at 6 pm when an SUV came roaring over a median directly into the Pack family vehicle. Colum immediately sustained injuries to his spine and very quickly passed away at the hospital, far too young.
“Colum passed on in the arms of his parents in the hospital,” his family wrote. “Colum’s (spine) injury was too severe to repair and (he) was kept alive for his parents to say their solemn goodbyes.”
Court Saga Begins
In 2012, the Third District Court charged one Thomas Randall Ainsworth (61) with three second-degree felonies – two injuries and one death, both caused by a “measureable controlled substance” in his system.
In September 2013, he pleaded guilty to all counts, saying “I wish I could trade places with him, but I can’t,” adding that the event had left a “scar on [his] heart.” Ainsworth was doing methamphetamines, smoking marijuana and reaching for his phone when he struck the unsuspecting family.
Kelly Pack had her own grief to worry about: “We have to live the rest of our lives with broken hearts,” she said, continuing, “We have lived every parent’s worst nightmare.”
The judge imposed three consecutive sentences of one to 15 years – a virtual 45-year sentence, if served in its entirety. “I have considered the nature, circumstances and gravity of the offense,” Judge Deno Himonas said at the hearing.
Ainsworth took a differing view with regard to his sentence. After all, he had a family of his own. His daughter Amy, upset, was heard saying “I love you Dad” after his conviction. That’s not to mention his 1-year old grandchild who may never feel Ainsworth’s embrace.
With these considerations in mind, he appealed his sentence, arguing that the “measurable amount law” is unconstitutional because it violates the Uniform Operation of Laws Clause of the state constitution.
His argument before the Court of Appeals of Utah ran like this: under Utah’s statutes, it is a third-degree felony to injure or kill another person while driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol “to a degree that renders the person incapable of safely operating a vehicle.” It is also the case that, under Utah Code, it is a second-degree felony to kill or injure a person while driving under the influence of a “measurable” quantity of a Schedule I or II drug.
These provisions, Ainsworth argued, are contradictory. There is no reason he should be punished more harshly (under the latter provision) than a person who is deemed incapable of driving safely – or so went his argument.
Court of Appeals
The court of appeals agreed with Ainsworth’s reasoning, saying “there does not appear to be any rational basis for punishing individuals who have ‘any measurable amount’ of controlled substance in their bodies more harshly than individuals who have an incapacitating amount of the substance in their bodies.” The court remanded the case back to the district court to reduce the charges to third-degree felonies, as per the provision mentioned above.
State Supreme Court
The highest court in Utah differed with the appeals court and ultimately reinstated the original prison sentence, arguing that the initial intent of congress was to differentiate between alcohol and drugs and Schedule I and II drugs.
“It was so concerned about the use of Schedule I or II drugs by drivers that it deemed that element enough to bump the offense level to a second-degree felony (even in cases in which there is no showing of actual impairment),” wrote Justice Thomas Lee.
It would appear that this is the last chapter in Ainsworth’s sentencing saga. Next, he will face a parole board, most likely in 2027 – though that date is not certain. One thing is for certain though: a longer sentence will not bring Colum back.