No contest plea in crash that killed 5-year-old

February 5, 2010 1:21:57 PM PST
A Rohnert Park woman pleaded no contest this morning to vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence in connection with a crash in Santa Rosa that killed a 5-year-old boy and injured a woman last year.

Brandi Hanley, 32, will be sentenced to five years probation and community service as part of a plea agreement between the prosecution and defense.

Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Gnoss approved the agreement today and suspended execution of a five-year prison term. He told Hanley she can be sent to prison for five years if she violates her probation.

Gnoss also said he has not decided whether he will also sentence Hanley to a year in the county jail or approve an alternative to the jail term when she is sentenced April 1.

Hanley was driving on a suspended license April 28 when her Ford Explorer struck a Toyota Matrix and a Toyota Celica from behind. The Toyotas were stopped at the intersection of Marlow and Guerneville roads.

The collision forced the Matrix into a metal utility pole in the southeast corner of the intersection.

Addison Branson, 5, of Santa Rosa, who was sitting in the back seat of the Matrix, died 30 minutes after the crash.

Jennifer Welch, a front seat passenger, was injured and the boy's father, Albert Branson, 52, the driver, was treated at a hospital and released. Hanley also was treated and released from a hospital.

Hanley admitted causing great bodily injury to Welch at part of the plea agreement this morning in court.

After the plea hearing, Albert Branson and the boy's mother, Allison Scott, both said the five-year probation term is unfair.

"But we think it's the best (agreement) that could have been made," Scott said.

Because Hanley does not have a prior record, the chance of her being sentenced to state prison after a trial "would be fairly low," Scott said after the plea hearing.

"We have to take what is offered and hope she'll feel remorse and take this opportunity to fix her life and do community service somewhere that will help children in need," Branson said. "Nothing is fair in any of this."

Brooks said two judges who reviewed the case told the prosecution they would not sentence Hanley to the maximum term if she were convicted at trial, Brooks said.

Brooks said Hanley's license was suspended before the crash because of a seizure disorder.

Hanley's medical records have been sealed and have never been discussed on the record in court proceedings. Her attorney, Deputy Public Defender Joseph Rogoway, has declined to comment on the case.

"There is some evidence of medical issues but no medical person could say at that time (of the crash) there was a seizure," Brooks said.

"We went over all the facts and her background to decide this was a reasonable sentence," Brooks said.

He said Hanley has "a five-year prison sentence hanging over her head."