Wisconsin's first homicide by texting while driving prosecution ended Friday with a Sun Prairie woman receiving a year in prison for the death of a UW-Madison student on East Johnson Street in 2010.
Dane County Circuit Judge Stephen Ehlke rejected recommendations of probation for Stephanie Kanoff, 21, by the state Department of Corrections and by Kanoff's lawyer, Murali Jasti, saying that giving Kanoff probation would unduly depreciate the seriousness of the crime.
Kanoff was found guilty by a jury in July of homicide by negligent driving for the Oct. 24, 2010 death of Dylan Ellefson, 21, who was behind his disabled car when he and his car were struck by Kanoff's minivan. Kanoff will also serve two years of extended supervision after her release from prison.
Jurors said after the trial that she was found guilty because of the time she had spent on her phone after leaving work minutes before the crash, not necessarily because they found she was texting at the moment of the crash.
Ellefson's father, Dan Ellefson, said after the sentencing hearing that even though he and his wife, Deb, had sought the maximum sentence for Kanoff, which is 10 years of combined prison and extended supervision, he was satisfied with the sentence Kanoff received.
"It wasn't everything I hoped for but I think it was fair," Ellefson said. "I think Judge Ehlke did his due diligence in coming up with a just sentence."
Earlier, Ellefson wept as he told Ehlke about his son, who was a senior at UW-Madison and had big plans for the future, including a year in Spain, in Argentina and in Japan, all to better prepare for following his mother into a career as a teacher.
"Stephanie Kanoff was playing Russian roulette that day with her car," he told Ehlke.
Assistant Attorney General Tara Jenswold argued for a two-year prison term for Kanoff, saying that she had not accepted responsibility for Dylan Ellefson's death. She also said that while Kanoff cooperated with a police investigation by turning over her cellphone and providing statements, it was half-hearted cooperation and never fully truthful.
Bolstering her argument, Jenswold said, were text messages Kanoff wrote in the hours after the crash in which she appeared more concerned for her own welfare than the fact that someone had died. She also wanted a friend to send her pictures from the crash scene, telling her, "Send me the good ones."
Kanoff choked up as she told Ehlke how sorry she feels for the crash and that she thinks about it every day.
"I know my apology is hard to accept, but it comes from the deepest part of my heart," she said.
In addition to prison and extended supervision, Ehlke ordered Kanoff to spend 100 hours speaking to young people learning to drive and other groups about the dangers of texting while driving. He also ordered that she not drive with a phone that's turned on in the driver's area of a car. She will also have to take a driving safety course to get her license back after a mandatory yearlong revocation.