Tara Carlson gets eight years in prison for drunken driving crash that killed James Menard

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Nico Savidge
Friday, November 15, 2013

JANESVILLE—Daniel Menard probably had every right to be angry or demand a long prison term for the woman who sat at the defense table Friday morning in Rock County Court.

That wasn't what Menard did, though, when Judge Kenneth Forbeck asked Menard if he had anything to say at a sentencing hearing for 40-year-old Tara Carlson of Janesville.

Before Forbeck sentenced Carlson, who killed 64-year-old James Menard in a drunken driving crash last year, Daniel Menard told the court that forgiveness had been important to his father.

“One of my dad's best gifts he brought to this world was his ability to forgive,” Daniel Menard said. “He never held a grudge against anybody and always looked for the good in people. Although our family is deeply saddened by what happened here, we realize this was an accident and nobody's perfect.”

Everyone—from Forbeck to prosecutor Katharine Buker to Carlson's attorney, Robert Junig—remarked on the compassion and thoughtfulness of James Menard's family and friends.

“I compliment you,” Forbeck said. “You are the kindest group of people I have ever listened to.”

But Forbeck said that kindness may have been rooted in naiveté about how bad the problem of drunken driving is in Wisconsin, citing statistics that showed more than 200 people were killed in drunken driving crashes in the state last year.

Forbeck sentenced Carlson to eight years in prison and 10 years of extended supervision.

“There are consequences to what we do in this life, and you are going to bear those consequences,” Forbeck told her.

Carlson created a “deadly mix” when she tried to drive home from a wedding reception the night of Aug. 18, 2012, with a blood-alcohol concentration more than double the legal limit, he said.

She was driving home after getting into a fight with her boyfriend, who Junig said was supposed to take her home but wound up drinking.

Carlson drove through a stop sign at the intersection of Highway 11 and County B west of Janesville and crashed into the car that carried Menard and three other people, all of whom were injured.

Prosecutors charged Carlson with two felonies and six misdemeanors after the crash, and in September she pleaded guilty to the most serious charge: homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle.

Buker asked for a five-year prison term as part of that plea agreement, which saw the other charges dismissed but read into the record.

On Friday, Carlson stood to face Daniel Menard and his wife, Sheila, and spoke to them through tears.

“I can only imagine how hard this has been for all of you,” Carlson said. “I want you to know that I will never forget, nor forgive myself for the all the hurt and pain I have caused everyone.”

“I don't want another family to hurt as I have caused your family.”

Daniel Menard said it wasn't easy for his family to get to the point where they could express compassion for the person who killed James Menard.

Asked how they got to there, Daniel and Sheila Menard gave the same answer: “That's what he would have wanted.”

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