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'A kick in the teeth:' Family of girl injured in DUI crash that killed 2 horses upset by sentence

Benjamin Ralston had amphetamines and fentanyl in his system when he crashed into two girls riding horses, killing the horses and seriously injuring the girls.

MUSKEGON, Mich — The man guilty of injuring two young girls and killing their horses while driving impaired was sentenced to 30 days in jail and 12 months on probation.

On April 5, 2021, Benjamin Ralston was driving on Barnes Road in Egleston Township when he drove at least 50 feet off the road, hitting two girls riding horseback. 

According to the police report, Ralston told officers he had fallen asleep and that he was not on drugs or alcohol. The Muskegon County Prosecutor says a toxicology report showed amphetamines and alcohol in Ralston's system at the time of the crash.

RELATED: Driver sentenced in 2021 crash that left 2 girls injured, 2 horses dead

The two horses, Jack and Dottie, died in the crash. Both girls were seriously hurt. 

"After a while I just like woke up on the ground and everything is just like foggy," said Adriana Helsel, one of the girls in the crash. "When I go to bed, I still think about it before I fall asleep." 

"I go down there and all I see is her on the ground, she can't move, her horse is dead," said Jessica Edens, Adriana's mother. "It was horrible." 

Adriana spent two weeks recovering from the accident in Mary Free Bed, and needed months of physical therapy rehabilitation once she got out. When she was finally able to go back to school, she did so in a wheelchair. 

RELATED: Fundraiser started for two girls hit by a car while riding horses

Helsel and Edens are not happy with Ralston's sentence. In addition to the 30 days in jail and 12 months probation, he must pay $6,444.50 in restitution.

13 ON YOUR SIDE asked Judge Mathes for a comment on what led to that sentencing decision, but after multiple requests, we did not get a response. We asked the same question to the Muskegon County Prosecutor, and they said sentencing decisions are not in their hands, but judges weigh a number of factors to determine a sentence in each individual case.

They believe he should have gotten more time behind bars. To make their frustration worse, Ralston did not turn himself in after being sentenced Wednesday and missed a pretrial hearing the next day. Online records show he is still not in custody.

"He could hurt somebody else again," Edens said. "For the justice system to say '30 days and you’re good and a year probation,' I don’t feel like that’s good enough."

Ralston pled no contest to three charges following the crash: Operating while impaired, a moving violation causing serious impairment of body function and driving failure to maintain security.

While Adriana was recovering, Ralston was building a sizable record for himself. Court documents show several other charges in a short period of time. On July 15, Rolston was charged with a failure to maintain security while driving, which he pled guilty to.

On Aug. 24, he was charged with driving with a suspended license. On Nov. 17, he was again charged with driving with a suspended license, as well as failure to report an accident. He pled not guilty to the three most recent charges.

"There’s so much on his record since then, so he obviously didn’t change," Edens said, "I feel like it was a kick in the teeth."

Adriana is focusing on her own recovery. She says the first time she was back riding a horse was bittersweet. Flooded with memories of Jack, her horse killed in the accident, and in physical pain from her injuries, she still called it a sense of relief to be back in the saddle.

"I feel like my horses keep pushing me to go farther," she said. "Even when I had my walker and wheelchair and stuff, I used to drag myself out there to go and see them."

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