After more than a year of anticipation, the family of a woman killed by a drunk driver left the culprit’s sentencing hearing in tears upon hearing the verdict.
Donald Jackson, the driver who killed Valley Springs resident Chelsea Lund, 27, and seriously injured her then-8-year-old son, Kaiden, in a head-on collision near Burson in December of 2018, was sentenced to a five-year probationary period on Jan. 31.
Roughly 30 people attended the hearing, a somber proceeding that stretched into the late afternoon.
Sitting on the right side of the courtroom, many of Lund’s friends and family members wore t-shirts that read, “Justice for Chelsea and Kaiden.” Jackson’s friends and family sat behind the defense on the other side.
Led into the room in an orange prison jumpsuit and shackles, the 27-year-old Wallace native bore a regretful look on his face and kept his head down for much of the hearing.
“I’d like to remind everyone of courtroom decorum,” presiding Calaveras County Superior Court Judge Timothy Healy announced at the beginning of the proceeding. “This is a very emotional day for everyone, not just one family.”
In November of 2019, Jackson pleaded no contest to vehicular manslaughter and gross negligence, driving under the influence of alcohol, causing injury, and dissuading a witness from reporting a crime.
He admitted to enhancements for causing great bodily injury to multiple victims.
Citing facts laid out in the probation report, Deputy District Attorney and prosecutor Milton Matchak repeatedly told Healy that Jackson is not a “suitable candidate for probation.”
On the night of Dec. 23, 2018, Jackson, with a blood alcohol level (BAC) in excess of the legal limit of .08%, illegally crossed a double yellow line to pass his cousin, Dusty Jackson, while driving up a blind hill, just before hitting Lund’s car head-on, Matchak said.
Jackson allegedly attempted to flee the scene and asked his cousin to lie for him, Matchak added.
His actions were grossly negligent, Matchak said, highlighting that it was Jackson’s choice to get behind the wheel after drinking and to disregard the safety of others on the road that night.
Matchak said the accident wasn’t caused by a loss of control of the car, and that Jackson was allegedly racing his cousin – a claim that Healy would later declare there to be no evidence for.
Jackon’s actions caused a great deal of long-term emotional and financial trauma for Lund’s friends and family members, Matchak concluded.
“The defendant's choice changed multiple lives forever,” Matchak said.
Attendees on both sides of the room sniffled and sobbed as Matchak made his case, and Chelsea’s parents sat hugging each other in support throughout the hearing.
Defense Attorney Gilbert Somera, out of Stockton, repeatedly told Healy that while Jackson may be an immature young man, he is not a “criminally minded person.”
Although it was determined to be a moot point given Jackson’s no contest plea, Somera downplayed his client’s BAC, arguing that an expert analysis was never able to determine whether it was actually above .08%.
“We don’t have a drunk, we have a young man that made a stupid decision to pass his cousin,” Somera said.
Given the chance to speak, Jackson’s family members expressed their condolences to the Lunds and repeatedly referred to Jackson as a “good person who made a bad decision.”
“We all feel such sadness and grief for you all,” said Nancy Jackson, Donald Jackson’s mother. “Donnie is at a loss. He cries for you all … He will live with this guilt for the rest of his life.”
Jackson, himself, read a letter addressing the Lunds as well.
“On Dec. 23, 2018, I made the worst decision of my life,” Jackson said, his voice trembling. “I didn’t think of the consequences (or) the pain and suffering I would cause. I was not myself that night … I just want you to know how truly sorry I am.”
As attendees were filtering back into the courtroom after a short break to hear Healy’s judgement, the Lund family exited the room sobbing.
Although Jackson “inflicted great bodily harm that carries lifelong consequences,” his actions were not callous in nature – he did not purposefully intend to kill anybody, and he acknowledged wrongdoing, Healy said. Jackson, Healy argued, made a “judgement error.”
That doesn’t warrant the maximum penalties of grossly negligent vehicular manslaughter, Healy said.
“This is not a defendant who is evil. This is not that person,” Healy said.
Jackson was sentenced to a year in county jail, with a five-year probationary period – a violation of which could result in nearly nine years of prison time.
“You’re being given an opportunity to show us and prove to yourself why you should be given this opportunity,” Healy told Jackson. “I’m giving you this opportunity because I believe that you can.”
Following the hearing, Dana Lund, Chelsea’s mother told the Enterprise she has lost faith in the county court system.
“I think I’m in a little bit of shock,” Lund said. “I have no faith with the state we’re in. They don’t punish drunk drivers. I wasn’t expecting that he would get the full sentence that he should, but I was expecting that he’d get something. He killed our daughter.”
Healy “sent us a message that our daughter’s life doesn’t matter and that our grandson’s life doesn’t matter,” Lund said. “The only people that got sentenced in this is us. The people that love Chelsea got a life sentence.”