OGDEN — A 16-year-old girl charged as an adult with murdering two people when she crashed her car into them last week made her initial appearance in court Wednesday.
Marilee Patricia Gardner was wide-eyed and silent as the charges against her were described. The teen is charged with two counts of murder, a first-degree felony, for the deaths of Maddison Haan, 20, of West Point, and Tyler Christianson, 19.
Second District Judge Brent West explained that each of the charges carries a potential prison sentence of 15 years to life.
As he left the courtroom following the hearing, defense attorney Walter Bugden said only that his young client is "very frightened."
With the deaths of two young people and a 16-year-old facing murder charges, Branden Miles, chief criminal deputy with the Weber County Attorney's Office, called the case tragic on both sides.
Miles said the severe charges are appropriate in the case considering Gardner's suspected intent in the crash. The teen deliberately caused the wreck in an attempt to carry out a "suicide pact," according to charging documents.
"This case has more evidence than just a simple accident, there is an element of intent here that raises the stakes of the charges in this case," Miles said. "This wasn't somebody who tried to avoid an accident, this is somebody who purposefully engaged or caused an accident which then resulted in the deaths of two people."
Gardner stole a Chevy Tahoe from her parents' home in Layton on June 29, telling police she was on her way to meet a 17-year-old friend in Roy and was planning on "purchasing drugs, taking the drugs, and then crashing her mother's car with both of them inside in an attempt to kill themselves," charging documents state.
An officer spotted the Tahoe, which was dragging a plastic garbage can caught underneath it, and tried to pull Gardner over shortly after 1 a.m. on June 30. Instead, Gardner sped up, slamming into the Hyundai Accent at an estimated 98 mph near the intersection of 3500 West and 6000 South in Roy, charges state.
Haan, who was driving, was killed instantly when the SUV crashed into her car from behind. Christianson was rushed to McKay-Dee Hospital where he died from his injuries.
Police say Gardner has been reported as a runaway from her Layton home several times in the past. She also has a history of being suicidal and was recently hospitalized for treatment, according to the charges.
In addition to the murder charges, Gardner is also charged with failing to stop at the command of an officer, a third-degree felony; and failure to remain at the scene of an accident involving death, a third-degree felony.
Under Utah law, prosecutors can directly file murder charges in adult court against a juvenile who is 16 or 17 years old. Until the case is resolved, Gardner may stay in custody at a juvenile facility rather than an adult jail under changes made last year by the Utah Legislature.
Gardner will return to court July 27 where her attorneys are expected to indicate whether they intend to ask for a preliminary hearing in the case.
If someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, there are resources to help. Call the UNI Crisis Line at 801-587-3000, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org.