The attorney for the mother of an unborn child who died after a crash involving a Mayes County deputy said he is concerned that prosecutors are considering not filing any formal criminal charges in the case.
Tulsa attorney Daniel Aizenman, who represents Kaylee Thurlo, 18, of Spavinaw, said he and Thurlo met this week with Matt Ballard, district attorney for Rogers, Mayes and Craig counties, to discuss the case. Aizenman said he and Thurlo were told by Ballard that he was considering a deferred prosecution agreement on misdemeanor negligent homicide with the deputy and that no formal criminal charges would be filed.
Aizenman said he is concerned the matter will be swept under the rug, should Ballard decline to file charges against the deputy, and that the deputy may be getting special treatment.
Ballard, in a statement, said his office had not yet settled “on a charging decision at this time.”
On May 10, Mayes County Deputy Brittney Burnett was traveling in her Chevrolet Tahoe police unit eastbound on County Road 410 near Spavinaw, approaching the intersection with State Highway 82, according to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, which investigated the crash.
Burnett was responding to a 911 call of a possible burglary in progress, and she had her lights and sirens activated at the time of the collision, Aizenman said.
Meanwhile, 32-year-old Chrystal Compher, of Spavinaw, was travelling in her 2002 Acura northbound on Highway 82, with Thurlo and her 11-year-old son Adin Compher riding as passengers, according to OHP reports.
Aizenman said Compher saw Burnett approaching the intersection with her lights flashing and pulled her vehicle over on Highway 81 in an effort to yield to Burnett. As Burnett approached the intersection, at which County Road 410 curves to meet Highway 82, there is evidence that she was travelling around 80 mph, Aizenman said.
According to the OHP, Burnett told troopers that she looked down at her in-vehicle computer just before to the collision. In a subsequent report, the OHP states a contributing factor to the collision was “Other Distraction Inside the Vehicle” on Burnett’s part. The report states that there was no improper action on Compher’s part.
Burnett attempted to merge south on Highway 81 but failed to complete the turn and struck Compher’s vehicle, according to the OHP.
Burnett, who was placed on administrative leave after the crash, was transported to a hospital with non-incapacitating injuries to her arms and legs, Aiden Compher was transported to a hospital with an incapacitating injury to his leg and Thurlo, who was six months pregnant, was transported to a hospital with internal injuries. Compher was treated and released from a hospital with no injuries.
The next night, two days before Mother’s Day, Thurlo’s unborn child, whom she had named Wyatt, was pronounced dead at Integris Hospital in Grove.
“The collision was a result of Deputy Burnett’s erratic driving,” Aizenman said. “There’s evidence that she was driving over 80 miles-an-hour and at that time she looked down at her computer monitor, lost control of her vehicle and crashed into the vehicle that Ms. Thurlo was in. Subsequently, Ms. Thurlo lost her baby. The DA has visited with my client and I and has advised us they are considering as one of their options a deferred prosecution agreement without filing charges. If that is what they’re going to do, it is simply a travesty of justice. It is nothing more than a slap on the wrist.”
The initial alert sent to media outlets by the OHP the day following the crash did not mention Burnett was a Mayes County deputy or that Thurlo was pregnant.
Aizenman said he has filed a tort claim with the county for the crash, but plans to file a civil lawsuit on behalf of Thurlo and Aiden Compher if it is denied.
However, Aizenman said, it is up to the district attorney to file criminal charges when the law is broken, and if charges are not filed in this case, he feels it’s likely the deputy is getting special treatment.
“They would not confirm or deny what they were doing. He (Ballard) just said that was something they were considering,” Aizenman said. “The fact that they’re considering a deferred prosecution without even filing charges, I think that’s where the problem lies. I don’t think that would be offered to anyone else who was in that situation who was not a deputy.”
Tulsa attorney Jeff Krigel, a criminal defense attorney who is also representing Chrystal Compher in the case, said if Ballard chooses not to file charges, it will allow any agreement between the district attorney’s office and Burnett to be kept secret.
Deferred prosecution agreements are like signing a contract with the District Attorney — the offender agrees there’s likely enough evidence they will be found guilty should the case go to trial, and so the accused agrees to abide by the terms of the contract, Krigel said. Usually those are public, but only if charges are filed with the court against the person.
“It’s a plea deal with the district attorney’s office. It’s a confession directly to the DA’s office outside the presence of the court,” Krigel said.
“In order to keep it out of the court system, in order to keep it out of public light, they’re going to just have to go to the DA’s office for a few months and check in,” he said. “And we’re talking about doing that through misdemeanor probation, which again isn’t through the court in any way, it’s only an agreement through the DA’s office that stays hidden and can be sealed. It’s very private.”
Krigel said had it been Compher who was at fault, the criminal case would likely be prosecuted much more aggressively.
“If my client while driving had looked down at her cell phone or if she had been inattentive in any way, if she had been speeding, I can tell you my client would still be in jail on murder charges,” he said.
In a written statement to The Frontier, Ballard, who is up for re-election in November, said no decision has yet been made about what his office will do in the case.
“Our office hasn’t made a charging decision at this time,” Ballard said. “Unfortunately, this is looking like an attorney out for a payday. We have to solely focus on the letter of the law and justice; which is the path we will pursue, as agreed upon during our prior meetings with the victim.”
Aizenman also said his main concern was getting justice for his client.
“We know there’s nothing we can do to bring back Ms. Thurlo’s baby … but we need justice,” Aizenman said. “That’s the best we can get here. We don’t think the treatment of Ms. Burnett is the same as it would be had it been a civilian or anyone else. What we want is equal treatment and equal justice.”