CEDAR RAPIDS — Jennifer Perez said she has gone through the motions of life on automatic — “sleep, get up, eat, lather, rinse and repeat” — since the day in 2016 a man who was texting at the wheel smashed into her car and killed two of her daughters.
“We’ll never be the same. We all died that day,” Perez, of Marion, said while giving a victim’s impact statement Monday during the sentencing of Keith Furne.
In April, a jury convicted Furne, 35, of Cedar Rapids, on two counts of homicide by vehicle and one count of reckless driving resulting in serious injury.
Monday, 6th Judicial District Judge Fae Hoover-Grinde sentenced Furne to 25 years in prison. But she ran the three sentences concurrently, which means he will spend a maximum of 10 years in prison.
Furne, who has been free on bail, immediately was taken into custody following the hearing.
Perez’s daughters, Selena Apodaca, 16, and Isabella Severson, 13, were passengers in her car Nov. 3, 2016 when Furne crashed his pickup truck into their stopped Chevrolet Aveo on County Home Road north of Robins.
The two teen girls died from blunt force injuries. Her other daughters, Elysia Severson, now 16, suffered permanent injuries and Mia Severson, now 5, had minor injuries.
In court, Perez showed a video with photos of her daughters, and Elysia and Mia in the hospital. Elysia was in rehabilitation for months.
Hoover-Grinde, looking at the Perezes in the courtroom, said there was nothing the court could do to change what has happened — they are “forever changed.”
She pointed out that Furne also has changed.
Her reasoning for the 10-year sentence was his lack of criminal history, his supportive family and his remorse — all things that will help in his rehabilitation, the judge said.
She said also the reason for giving him prison time — defense attorneys had argued for probation — is because he was behind the wheel of a “deadly weapon” but was distracted for some time.
Hoover-Grinde, who called texting while driving a “public epidemic,” said she hopes this sentence will send a message that the court considers texting while driving a serious offense with serious consequences.
Furne, during the sentencing, said in low, quiet voice that he “takes full responsibility for this” and he thinks about it every day.
“I hope someday the people affected will be able to move on,” he said.
Al Willett, Furne’s attorney, said during the hearing that his client was in counseling to help him deal with the effects of this crash.
He pointed out that Furne has remained employed by the city of Cedar Rapids as the coordinator of the Tuma Soccer Complex, and that his supervisor speaks “highly” of him.
In his argument for probation, Willett said Furne would not reoffend and he was not a threat to the community.
“There will never be justice,” Perez said after the hearing. “It wouldn’t matter if he got 25 years. My kids are dead. I feel like now I can process and grieve for my children. But it will be a lifelong process to see how we go on each day.”
After the hearing, Perez said this was the first time she has seen Furne remorseful and heard him say he was sorry. He hadn’t appeared to show emotion during his trial.
First Assistant Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks, who asked the judge to run consecutive sentences for a total of 25 years, said following the hearing he agreed with her that texting while driving is a “public epidemic” and thinks the sentence will send a message of deterrence.
Perez and Maybanks said something positive has come out of this tragedy — more awareness of the dangers of texting while driving.
Perez, her family and many friends of her daughters advocated for making texting while driving a primary offense — meaning police don’t need to spot some other violation also to pull over a driver.
Iowa lawmakers passed the law in 2017, but rejected a more sweeping measure that would have allowed only hands-free use of phones while driving.
Perez said she wants to see the law evolve and become stricter. She believes the generation of her daughters will continue to raise awareness about this issue.
Evidence at the trial showed Furne was driving 60 mph west on County Home Road until just before striking the Aveo driven by Perez.
She had stopped the car behind a truck that was waiting to turn left on North Troy Road.
Furne rear-ended the Aveo. His pickup continued another 670 feet before stopping.
Prosecutors argued that Furne, according to cellphone records, was texting up to the moment of impact. His Silverado pickup was going 60 mph up to a half second before the crash, based on the vehicle’s data retrieval. He didn’t brake.
Selena and Isabella died from massive blunt force injuries.
Elysia said after the trial that she suffered major brain and spinal cord injuries and lost mobility on the right side of her body in the crash. She said she takes 20 pills a day for pain and muscle injuries.
The defense throughout the trial disputed that Furne was texting up until impact. But the judge rejected a defense motion that the evidence at trial did not support the jury’s verdict.
Furne was also ordered to pay $150,000 to each girl’s family or estate for restitution.
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