GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - A Comstock Park teen whose car slammed into a tree at 110 mph last April, killing one passenger and critically injuring three others, will spend between 3½ and 15 years in prison for what the judge called “a great human tragedy.’’
Armando Mendoza Jr., 18, has no memory of the deadly April 10, 2016 crash, which happened after he was called and asked to give four high school girls a ride home from a party. His car left Vinton Avenue near Nine Mile Road NW and struck a tree.
Alyssa Eggerding, 16, a junior at Sparta High School, died a day later. The others suffered broken bones; one had part of her leg amputated.
“It’s a great human tragedy,’’ Kent County Circuit Court Judge Donald A. Johnston said. “One of the officers who policed the scene commented that he was surprised anyone got out of that wreck alive.’’
Mendoza was pinned in the vehicle and suffered critical injuries in the 3:42 a.m. crash in Kent County's Alpine Township. Eggerding suffered a broken neck.
Alyssa Naughton, 16, of Walker, suffered two broken arms and had part of her leg amputated. Kaitlin Keeler, 15, of Comstock Park and Olivia Lawrence, 17, of Sparta, each suffered a broken femur.
Mendoza was 17 at the time. His driver’s license only allowed him to drive with a licensed parent or a designated licensed adult who was at least 21 years of age.
His attorney called the crash a "horrible, abject lesson to all involved.'' Mendoza briefly addressed the court to apologize.
“I just wanted to say that I’m sorry for trying to do what I thought was right and for really trying my best and for having it end up this way,’’ he said.
Johnston’s 11th floor courtroom was packed for Tuesday's sentencing. Keeler, assisted by crutches, stepped up to a podium and told the court it is easy to judge Mendoza as “the bad guy,’’ but said he is also a friend who went out of his way to help four stranded teens the night of the crash.
“He makes mistakes and screws up just like the rest of us have,’’ Keeler said. “It’s easy to see him and think bad guy, but he was also the guy who woke up in the middle of the night to come get two friends and two people he barely knew just to save us from getting in trouble.
“He did a stupid thing that a lot of teenagers our age have done,’’ Keeler added. “He just had a worse outcome than most people.’’
Eggerding’s older brother says he hopes the tragedy can serve as a deterrent to other young drivers.
“Laws exist for a reason and I hope that the outcome of whatever happens today will show future kids why you can’t go 110 mph on a road,’’ Daniel Eggerding said. “The only person that isn’t here today is my sister and that’s because she’s dead. And I’m not blaming you individually, but something has to be done so that it can’t happen again in the future.’’
“If you are punished severely, you will be seen as somewhat of a victim yourself,’’ he told Mendoza. “And yet if you are not sanctioned in an appropriate and proportional manner, we have devalued life and abdicated our responsibility to not only punish proportionally, but to send an appropriate deterrent message to the broader community.’’
He sentenced Mendoza to between 3½ and 15 years for reckless driving causing death and two to five years for reckless driving causing serious injury. The sentences will run concurrent.
“I have certainly turned this over in my mind many times, and I’m of the view that no matter what we do, it’s going to in some way seem inappropriate,’’ Johnston said. “You are obviously very remorseful for your conduct and in some ways, your conduct is unforgivable and resulted in disastrous consequences.’’
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